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Death penalty moratorium lifted completely in Pakistan: Officials

Updated March 10, 2015

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The partial lifting of the moratorium only applied to those convicted of terrorism offences, but officials said it has now been extended ─ AP/File
The partial lifting of the moratorium only applied to those convicted of terrorism offences, but officials said it has now been extended ─ AP/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has lifted its moratorium on the death penalty in all capital cases, officials said Tuesday, after restarting executions for terrorism offences in the wake of a Taliban school massacre.

The interior ministry has directed provincial governments to proceed with hangings for prisoners who had exhausted all avenues of appeal and clemency, a senior interior ministry official told AFP.

Another government official confirmed the news.

Pakistan has hanged 24 convicts since resuming executions in December after Taliban militants gunned down more than 150 people, most of them children, at Peshawar's Army Public School.

Read more: Militant siege of Peshawar school ends, 141 killed

The partial lifting of the moratorium only applied to those convicted of terrorism offences, but officials said it has now been extended.

“The government has lifted the moratorium on the death penalty,” the senior interior ministry official told AFP. “The interior ministry has directed the provincial home departments to expedite the executions of all condemned prisoners whose mercy petitions have been rejected by the president.“

Until December's resumption, there had been no civilian hangings in Pakistan since 2008.

Only one person was executed in that time ─ a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.

Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.

Supporters of the death penalty in Pakistan argue that it is the only effective way to deal with the scourge of militancy.

Read more: Death penalty debate

The courts system is notoriously slow, with cases frequently dragging on for years, and there is a heavy reliance on witness testimony and very little protection for judges and prosecutors.

This means terror cases are hard to prosecute, as extremists are able to intimidate witnesses and lawyers into dropping charges

Rights groups and the European Union have been highly critical of the resumption of executions.

Editorial: Death for terrorism

First, consider how ineffective capital punishment would be in the case of those militants who resort to suicide bombing as their primary weapon of death and destruction. Indoctrinated to the point where the perpetrator does not expect to emerge from the attack alive, how can the death penalty be expected to deter others of his ilk?

Secondly, in recent years, domestic and international human rights organisations have repeatedly raised the concern that the high number of people on death row for terrorism-related convictions points to an overuse by Pakistan of its anti-terrorism laws.

A joint report released recently by Justice Project Pakistan and Reprieve states that “instead of being reserved for the most serious cases of recognisable acts of terror ... [it is] being used to try ordinary criminal cases [...]”. In such a situation, the lifting of the moratorium will undoubtedly lead to serious miscarriages of justice.

Besides, the death penalty will always remain a cruel and inhumane form of punishment, even if those sentenced to die are found guilty of having perpetrated the most barbaric of acts.

Read the full editorial here