ISLAMABAD: Some three months after lifting a moratorium on executions for convicted terrorists, the government has completely reinstated capital punishment for all other offences that entail the death penalty.

“The execution of death sentence may be carried out strictly as per law and only where all legal options and avenues have been exhausted and mercy petitions under Article 45 of the Constitution have been rejected by the President,” said a notification issued by the Interior Ministry, seen by Dawn.

An official said that copies of the notification have already been received by all the four provincial home secretaries.

The move brought to an end the suspension of executions that had been in place for some years. The then president Asif Ali Zardari had placed a five-year moratorium on executions in June 2008 and during his tenure as head of the state, only one execution — that of a soldier found guilty of murder — was carried out.

After the PML-N government assumed power in 2013, it appeared that the government wanted to resume executions, but these plans were scrapped following threats of retaliatory attacks by militants.

In August 2013, the government decided to hang four convicts on death row. The four prisoners included two members of the banned outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) and were scheduled to be executed at the Sukkur and Karachi prisons. However, a temporary stay was ordered on these executions following objections from rights groups and then president.

The moratorium was partially lifted in December last year with regards to those convicted on terrorism and related charges. So far, some two dozen condemned prisoners have been executed since the lifting of the moratorium.

Rights groups such as Amnesty International claim that there are over 8,500 people on death row in dozens of the country’s prisons, making Pakistan one of the few countries with an extremely high death row population. Most of those on the death row have already exhausted the appeals process.

Though the notification to completely lift moratorium on death penalty was issued on March 3, two executions in non-terrorism related offences were carried out last month, evoking a strong reaction from Amnesty International, which termed it a disturbing and dangerous escalation in Pakistan’s use of the death penalty since a moratorium was lifted in December last year.

Mohammad Riaz and Mohammad Fiaz were hanged in Mirpur Central Prison in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir region. The two men were convicted of murdering the son of the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association in 2004, and awarded death sentences in 2005.

“This spate of killings must end immediately – the government should re-impose a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its eventual abolition. Pakistan has one of the world’s largest death row populations, and more than 8,000 people’s lives are at risk,” the Amnesty International said in a recent report.

According to Justice Project Pakistan – a legal aid group that has been working for the abolition of the death penalty – the announcement made by the government to lift the moratorium for those sentenced to death by anti-terrorism courts, was accompanied by assurances that the moratorium would stay in place for non-terrorist convicts and that executions would only be carried out as part of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism strategy.

“With the decision to completely lift the moratorium on death penalty, the Pakistan government has gone back on its commitments. This comes amid emphatic concerns about the systematic failure of Pakistan’s criminal justice system that nearly took the life of 14-year-old Shafqat Hussain just a few weeks ago. It was the human rights community that made the Pakistan government realise it had convicted a juvenile, who then came within a day of being executed,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

Sarah Belal, Executive Director of Justice Project Pakistan, said: “The ease with which this government has gone back on its words from just two months ago is shocking. We’ve seen time and again that there is immeasurable injustice in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, with a rampant culture of police torture, inadequate counsel and unfair trials. Despite knowing this, the government has irresponsibly brought back capital punishment, condemning the lives of its most vulnerable citizens and possibly children to death.”

Published in Dawn March 11th , 2015

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