In a bid to curb the escalating crime rate, Pakistan's newly-elected government has decided not to extend a ban on capital punishment. But human rights activists have condemned the move as inhumane and retrograde.
Pakistan is going through one of its worst existential crises. The country is facing Islamist insurgency in its northwestern areas bordering Afghanistan and a protracted separatist movement in the southwestern Balochistan province. Islamist militants continue to target civilians in other parts of the country too.
In an attempt to rein in on crime and militancy, the newly-elected government has decided not to extend the moratorium on death penalty, which expired on June 30. Interior Ministry spokesman Omar Hamid Khan recently said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government won't be lenient with the prisoners facing death penalty except the ones who are pardoned on humanitarian grounds.
The ban had been imposed in 2008 by the Asif Ali Zardari-led previous government. However, Pakistan broke its own law in 2012 when it executed a convicted murderer and a former military officer.
The Pakistani official defended his government's policy by saying that capital punishment was in practice in parts of the United States; a country which he said was known for it "best judicial system." According to Pakistani authorities, there are currently about 400 prisoners on death row, but independent organizations put the number much higher.The predominant execution method is hanging.
Human rights organizations do not agree with the government's logic. They say there is no firm evidence to prove that capital punishment can deter crimes or extremism. Amnesty International believes that “as long as the death penalty is in place, the risk of executing innocent people can never be eliminated.”
According to the International Commission of Jurists, Pakistan is "part of a dwindling minority among states which have retained the death penalty and carry out executions.” The prospect of lifting the moratorium is "all the more alarming given the extraordinarily high number of people on death row,” the commission added. More than 150 countries in the world have already either abolished death penalty or stopped administering it.
Zohra Yusuf, head of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told DW that the Pakistani government's decision was a "setback" to the efforts of human rights activists. “We have taken up the matter with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Sharif and also with the Chief Minister of the Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, as the Punjab province has the highest number of people on death row,” Yusuf said, adding that the European Union had been also pressuring Pakistan to abolish the death penalty.