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AI Calls For An End To Pakistan Executions

Relatives and residents offer funeral prayers for a executed prisoner in eastern Pakistan in January.
Relatives and residents offer funeral prayers for a executed prisoner in eastern Pakistan in January.

Amnesty International (AI) has urged Pakistan to follow the global trend toward the abolition of the death penalty.

The watchdog's latest call is part of its campaign aimed at convincing Islamabad to immediately halt executions as a first step toward eventually repealing the death penalty in Pakistan.

"Amnesty International is against the death penalty irrespective of the nature of the crime or who is accused of committing it," AI's Pakistan researcher Sultana Noon told RFE/RL's Gandhara website. "We believe the global trend is toward the abolition of the death penalty."

Islamabad lifted a moratorium on the death penalty after a terrorist attack killed nearly 150 schoolchildren in the northwestern city of Peshawar last December. Since the beginning of this year, Pakistan has executed 239 people.

"Pakistan has made certain commitments under international law with regard to the death penalty, with regard to fair trials [and] with regard to juvenile executions," Noon said. "But [the country] is not living up to its commitments."

Noon termed the execution of Ansar Iqbal in Sargodha jail on September 29 "tragic" and said it marked a "failure on the part of the state of Pakistan to implement not only domestic law but also its commitments under international law."

Iqbal was charged with murders in 1994 and was sentenced to death in 1996. Rights campaigners say he was only 15 at the time of of arrest.

AI is concerned that the escalation in executions is undermining the already-frail justice system in the country.

"AI has systematically observed and documented the use of torture by the police to obtain confessions that are then used to convict people who end up on death row," Noon said.

A Pakistani lawmaker in charge of an influential parliamentary committee, however, has backed the dramatic rise in executions in Pakistan.

Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk, who heads the Law, Justice, and Human Rights Standing Committee in the lower house or National Assembly of Pakistani parliament says Pakistan has an established criminal justice system.

"A suspect is first tried and convicted by a session court," he said. "But this primary court's decision can be challenged in the [provincial] High Court and later the [federal] Supreme Court. Even if the Supreme Court upholds a conviction, the accused can petition the president of the country for clemency."

Virk criticized international human rights watchdogs for "falsely stating that juveniles are punished" in Pakistan. "On the contrary, from district courts to high courts and supreme court, there is a well-organized system of appeals and review of death penalties," he said.

"International human rights organizations are defaming the entire system. They must stop this mockery," Virk said.


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    Pamir Sahill

    Pamir Sahill is a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal in Prague. He reports on politics and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan.