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Pakistan halts executions during Ramadan

Pakistan has temporarily suspended the implementation of the death penalty in the month of Ramadan on the orders of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The Islamic country has executed a total of 170 people so far this year.

According to a statement released by prime minister's office, a moratorium is being imposed on capital punishment during Ramadan to observe "the sanctity of the holy month."

Ramadan, an Islamic month of daytime fasting, began in most parts of Pakistan on Friday.

"Nobody will be sent to gallows in reverence of the month of Ramadan," an Interior Ministry official told the DPA news agency on condition of anonymity.

Some 170 people have been executed in the South Asian country since the start of the year.

More than 8,000 Pakistanis,

including juveniles

, are currently on death row, according to rights group Amnesty International (AI), which has strongly condemned the recent executions.

Last week, the authorities hanged a Christian man, who was only 15 when he was convicted of murder.

A soldier escorts schoolchildren from the Army Public School that is under attack by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, December 16, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Khuram Parvez)

The Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in December shocked the world

Combating terrorism?

The government officials argue that fast-track executions are necessary to combat extremist attacks in the country. There is also considerable support among the public for

the lifting of the unofficial moratorium in December last year

, which had lasted between 2008 and 2014.

The decision followed the Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16 which shocked and horrified the nation. The militants' assault and siege of the school left more than 130 children dead. The people demanded the strictest action from the government and the resumption of executions was claimed to be one of the many actions required to punish the terrorists.

However, most of the people whom the government hanged in the first months of this year were not involved in the Peshawar massacre. Instead, they carried out failed assassination attempts on former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf, who is currently detained on treason charges. At the same time, a number of incarcerated militants, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a key suspect in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, are still alive and are yet to stand trial.

On Tuesday, March 10, the government went a step further and

lifted the moratorium on the death penalty in all capital cases

, thus strengthening criticism that Islamabad was not serious in punishing the Taliban and other jihadists.

Criticism from rights groups

This photograph taken on March 12, 2015 shows the Pakistani Kashmir parents of convicted killer Shafqat Hussain, displaying a photograph of their son, in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir (Photo: SAJJAD QAYYUM/AFP/Getty Images)

Shafqat Hussain, a death row inmate, was 14 when he allegedly committed murder

In an interview with DW, Amnesty International's deputy Asia Pacific director, David Griffiths, says that by expanding the scope of the death penalty further and opening it up to executions of non-terror convicts, Pakistan is using the death penalty as a quick-fix solution to tackling crime, when in reality there is no evidence to support that it works as a deterrent.

"Lifting the full moratorium on the death penalty is a highly regressive move by the Pakistani government, which could potentially put thousands of death row inmates' lives at risk," Griffiths said. "Sadly, the authorities have since turned to the death penalty in a knee-jerk reaction to try to combat 'terrorism.'"

Islamabad-based civil society activist and researcher, Salim Shah, fears that after hanging a few criminals

the government will go after political opponents

.

"My worry is that they (the authorities) will hang or use the hanging as a means to harass political opponents such as the nationalists in the western Balochistan province, or other political parties that are disliked by the military," Shah said.

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