South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in The Daily Times on Sep. 16 ::

LAHORE: Pakistan should immediately scrap apparent plans to carry out the first civilian execution in almost six years and instead impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as a first step towards abolition, Amnesty International said on Monday.

Shoaib Sarwar, a death row prisoner convicted on murder charges in 1998, is reportedly set to be hanged in a Rawalpindi jail on 18 September 2014. If carried out, it would be the first civilian execution in Pakistan since 2008 and the first execution in the country since 2012. “This execution should be halted immediately,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

“The suspension in executions which we have seen in recent years is one of few human rights areas in which Pakistan can point to a positive record. The country has committed itself to making progress on human rights – as a beneficiary of the EU’s GSP+ preferential trading status, for example – and the resumption of executions would be a seriously regressive step. Instead of moving to resume executions, authorities should formalise a moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards full abolition.”

Shoaib Sarwar has exhausted his appeal process, with the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court rejecting his appeals against the death penalty in 2003 and 2006 respectively. The last civilian execution in Pakistan took place in late 2008, but a soldier was executed by military authorities in November 2012. The execution of a civilian, Behram Khan, had been scheduled for 30 July 2012 but was later suspended. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government threatened to resume executions after coming to power in 2013, but backed-down after pressure from human rights groups and others. 

There are more than 8,000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan – one of the highest death row populations in the world – most of whom have exhausted the appeals process and could be facing execution. There are serious concerns around the lack of fairness of the trials in which people continue to be sentenced to death. Defendants are often without adequate legal representation, and some prisoners currently under sentence of death were reportedly under the age of 18 when the crimes were committed, against Pakistan’s obligations under international law.

“As long as the death penalty is in place, the risk of executing innocent people can never be ruled out. The systemic fair trials violations in Pakistan not only exacerbate this risk, but also put Pakistan in breach of its international obligations,” said David Griffiths. “There is no conclusive evidence that the threat of execution acts as a particular deterrent to crime. The death penalty violates the right to life, pure and simple, and has no place in any human rights-respecting society. Pakistan should join the majority of countries in the world and abolish it completely.”