Return of death penalty in Pakistan condemned

Sharif government says end to five-year-old moratorium will help tackle rising crime

Islamabad

Pakistan’s new government has ended a ban on the death penalty in a bid to tackle rising crime in the country – a move condemned by rights groups as major step backwards.

A five-year old moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan expired on 30 June. The new government, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has said that it will not be renewing the moratorium, adding that it is its policy to execute all death-row prisoners except those pardoned on humanitarian grounds.

Pakistan reportedly has some 8,000 prisoners facing death sentences, one of the highest numbers of people on death row globally. The Pakistani government puts the figure lower at around 400.

In most countries, the death penalty has been abolished while many others have moved towards moratoriums. Human Rights Watch has warned Pakistan’s new government that by ending a moratorium on the death penalty the country is reviving a “cruel” and “degrading” punishment, when the global trend is towards abolition.

“The moratorium on the death penalty should be restored immediately,” Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch, told The Independent. “The death penalty is a cruel, inhumane, degrading and manifestly unjust punishment. [It is] only outliers, countries largely seen as human rights pariahs, that persist with its use. The situation in Pakistan is particularly dire. The criminal justice system is dysfunctional and the investigative capacity of the police and the ability of the judiciary to dispense justice is highly compromised.”

The previous government of the Pakistan’s Peoples Party, whose former chairman Benazir Bhutto was a fierce opponent of capital punishment, enforced the moratorium soon after taking power in 2008 under President Asif Ali Zardari. The party, headed by Mr Zardari, says it opposes the death penalty because its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged on trumped-up murder charges after being deposed in a coup.

The revival of the death penalty in Pakistan will be a major source of concern for the country’s long-suffering religious minorities. Members of the Christian, Hindu and Ahmadi Muslim communities are facing an increasing threat of trumped-up blasphemy charges on little or no evidence.

Religious bigots and others pursuing a vendetta often use the vaguely worded blasphemy laws as a tool of coercion. Once the charge is made, the accused is taken into custody, from where they may not emerge. It is rare for the charge to be dropped.

The punishment for blasphemy is a mandatory death penalty. Even if the accused are not prosecuted, they can face a lingering threat to their lives. Last month, Rimsha Masih, a  15-year-old schoolgirl acquitted of charges of burning the Koran, fled to Canada where she was granted asylum.

In Pakistan, the death penalty is seen as a religious injunction and a form of exemplary punishment that acts as a deterrent.

**

Omar Waraich is a fellow of the International Reporting Project

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

PHP Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: PHP Develope...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star