Pakistan’s new government, striving to appear determined to rein in escalating crime and militancy, has ended a ban on the death penalty, in
a move condemned as ‘shocking and retrograde’ by human rights group Amnesty International.
Such a reinstatement of capital punishment is rare, with about 150 countries having already either abolished the death penalty or stopped administering it.
A 2008 moratorium imposed by Pakistan’s previous government, praised at the time by global rights groups, expired on June 30.
“The present government does not plan to extend it,” said Omar Hamid Khan, an interior ministry spokesman.
Khan said the new policy of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government was to execute all death row prisoners, except those pardoned on humanitarian grounds.
Pakistan is among the last nations in the world to stick to the practice, alongside the United States, China, Nigeria, Yemen and some others.
Up to 8,000 people remain on death row in dozens of the country’s notoriously overcrowded and violent jails.
The government has put the number at about 400. The method of execution is usually hanging.
“As long as the death penalty is in place, the risk of executing innocent people can never be eliminated,” Amnesty said in a statement this week in response to rumours ahead of the decision.
“The systemic fair trials violations in Pakistan not only exacerbate this risk, but also put Pakistan in breach of its international obligations.”
Pakistan says capital punishment is key to deterring crime in places such as Karachi, plagued by violence, as well as in the areas on its border with Afghanistan where Taliban militants launch daily attacks.
Asked about the criticism, Khan pointed to the fact that capital punishment was still in use in parts of the United States, a nation he said was home to the ‘best judicial system’.
Khan said, “We have a credible judicial system in place and the law must be allowed to take its course,” adding that up to 12 cases were being referred to the president every day.
Pakistan’s moratorium drew wide praise because of concerns that its courts and police were too inept to ensure fair trials. But Pakistan did break its own rules in 2012, when it executed a convicted murderer.
Number of people who are on death row in Pakistan
No of countries that have abolished the death sentence