illustration for death penalty

illustration for death penalty

Despite concerns from the international community, there have been more than 380 executions in Pakistan since 2014.

The country resumed the use of capital punishment under its new anti-terror policy, but rights groups say only 30 percent of those executed were convicted terrorists.

Asia Calling’s Naeem Sahoutara traveled to Faisalabad to meet the family of a paralyzed death row inmate, whose life hangs in the balance.

Mussarat Basit doesn’t know what to tell her two sons if they are called for the last meeting with their father, Abdul, before he is executed.

“I have never taken my children to the jail to meet their father,” she said. “It was only when my husband became severely ill and was moved to the hospital for treatment that I would sometimes take my children along to meet him.”

Mussarat’s 43-year-old husband is being treated for tubercular meningitis at a nearby hospital in Faisalabad, but in police custody.

Abdul was sentenced to death for murder in 2009, but during detention he contracted a disease that paralyzed the lower left side of his body. He is now in a wheelchair.

But his mother Nusrat Parveen says Abdul was completely fit before he was jailed.

“He contracted all these diseases because he had no treatment in jail. For three days he was lying in a cell and officials had to take him out. Then he went into a coma. That’s when various diseases were detected. His legs are paralyzed, his chest and back are numb. And his illness has reduced him to mere a skeleton,” Parveen commented.

After an inquiry into his health was ordered, Abdul’s execution has twice been postponed.

But the last stay granted by president Mamnoon Hussain expired this week, on April 25.

His mother has begged the president to have his sentence commuted.

“Such punishment should not be given to a disabled person. This punishment is for the terrorists. Allah has already punished him, he is half dead already,” Parveen appealed.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a seven-year moratorium on capital punishment in 2014, after the Taliban massacred 132 school children in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

As well as bombing Taliban hideouts in the mountainous region bordering Afghanistan, executions were also ramped up to deter terrorism.

Due to growing pressure from the international community the government promised that only terrorists would be hanged.

Under the National Action Plan, known as NAP, special military courts have been established to conduct speedy trials for terrorism suspects.

But rights activists like Maryam Haq, from the Justice Project Pakistan, say the government is not fulfilling its commitment.

“The issue is more with the kind of executions under the criminal procedure courts. And the reason for that is if you look at the number of executions that have happened so far since December 2014, it is those executions under the regular criminal courts that are of the highest number. That executions that are coming out of the military courts are very, very little compared to that,” Haq stated.

According to Amnesty International, Pakistan has the highest rates of execution worldwide after China and Iran.

Currently, there are more than 7,000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan.

More than 380 prisoners on death row have been executed since 2014, and 110 were those convicted for terrorism.

Zohra Yousuf, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says the government should focus more on tackling terrorism rather than hanging the terrorists.

“You know, the thing is that most of the terrorist incidents are carried out by the suicide bombers, even the one in Gulshan Iqbal Park. So they are not bothered giving up their life. So, execution or the fear of getting the death penalty and being executed, it doesn’t bother them because they are willing to give up their life anyway. It really is not a deterrent.”

Yousuf continued, “We believe, as I have said that the number of terrorism incidents have come down because of the army operation, not because of the executions. No way it has proved that it has acted as a deterrent.”

But for Sarah Belal, the chairperson of the Justice Project Pakistan, the death penalty is flawed to start with.

Especially when big questions remain about the country’s legal system.

“In our criminal justice system no one, including people from the legal fraternity and judiciary, can claim that our criminal justice system is free from errors, in a system in which police torture is a regular method of investigation,” Belal commented.

As for Abdul Basit, as his second stay expired this week, his life now hangs in the balance.  

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