Published in The News on Sep. 29 By Meeran Karim ::
Human rights groups are calling on the government of Pakistan to honour commitments made to the international community including the European Union in 2013 and formally re-announce the moratorium on executions in the country instead of adopting an attitude of silence.
As the Lahore High Court Rawalpindi bench ruled this month to stay a session courts decision of 1998 that sentenced Shoaib Sarwar to death by execution, the law firm representing Sarwar, Justice Project of Pakistan (JPP) is demanding the federal government communicate terms of the moratorium to all courts to stop the execution from taking place. Granted a stay by LHC for one month, the death-row prisoner’s stay period expires on October 13 and his lawyers at JPP fear that the court might reset an execution date for their client.
It is pertinent to note here that the current PML-N government had announced a moratorium on executions in 2013 after signing a trade agreement with the European Union for the lucrative General Schemes of Preference (GSP) Plus Status. The agreement which grants Pakistan preferential access to European markets was awarded by EU in recognition of Pakistan’s ratification of 129 international law conventions.
Since then, however, the government has been largely silent on its commitment and a clemency petition for Shoaib Sarwar filed by Justice Project of Pakistan is currently pending to no avail in the office of President Mamnoon Hussain.
Talking to The News, JJP spokesperson Shahab Siddiqi said Pakistan has the highest number of prisoners on death row with an estimate 8,500 persons awaiting execution. Siddiqi said the federal government had made agreements with EU on the basis of a moratorium on executions and should act before any unlawful executions take place in Pakistan.
The spokesperson for the law firm said the court should refrain from setting an execution date for Sarwar after the one-month stay expires, as Shoaib Sawar is party to a petition filed in the Supreme Court for the abolition of death penalty.
Talking to The News, Shahab Siddiqi said the government must come to the defense of death row prisoners and forcefully restate its position on the pressing issue of death penalty. He alleged that Sarwar, who is currently a prisoner in Haripur jail, is being denied from meeting family members and lawyers by prison authorities.
Human rights advocate and member of Asian Human Rights Commission, Bushra Khaliq told The News that one of the requirements for the GSP Plus Status is compliance with international human rights law. Khaliq said if Pakistan wishes to maintain this special privilege, the government must commit to the struggle against death penalty and fulfill its obligations to EU. The activist said death penalty is a huge flaw of Pakistan’s criminal justice system as false convictions by judges are rampant and often result in extreme inhumane punishments. She said almost all advanced democratic countries had abolished death penalty and were aware of its implications on the state of human rights.
Secretary General of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), IA Rehman talking to The News said several civil society groups had struggled for the abolition of death penalty and Shoaib Sarwar’s execution would put all that to waste.
Rehman told The News that President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain should pardon Sarwar as the government’s moratorium is still in place. He said HRCP had filed numerous petitions in the Supreme Court and would continue to fight against executions in Pakistan. The veteran activist said the previous Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government had spoken out against the death sentence and the current government should learn from its predecessor.