PM lifts moratorium on death penalty

| Black warrants will be issued within two days, says govt spokesman

PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced on Wednesday to abolish the ban on the execution of death penalty in terrorism-related cases.
Addressing the All Parties Conference in Peshawar, the PM said there was moratorium on death penalty in the earlier government of the PPP, “but today we have given approval to end this moratorium.”
The decision came a day after  Taliban gunmen attacked a school, killing 132 students and nine teachers, a government spokesman in Islamabad said.
The bloodshed has shocked the nation and put pressure on the government to do more to tackle the Taliban insurgency. Many people have called in the media for the death penalty to be restored.
“It was decided that this moratorium should be lifted in terrorism-related cases. The prime minister approved,” said government spokesman Mohiuddin Wani, referring to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s approval of the decision by a ministerial committee.
“Black warrants will be issued within a day or two,” he said, referring to execution orders.
He did not give any details about who might be executed under such orders.
A moratorium on the death penalty was imposed in 2008 and only one execution has taken place since then.
There are believed to be more than 8,000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan, about 10 percent convicted of offences labelled “terrorism”, said Justice Project Pakistan, a legal aid group.
“Terrorism” has a very broad definition under Pakistani law. About 17,000 cases of “terrorism” are pending in special courts.
Justice Project Pakistan released a report on Wednesday saying that those convicted of terrorism were often tortured into confessions or denied lawyers, and that recent crackdowns had not stopped militant attacks.
“Swathes of defendants whose crimes bear no relation to terrorism have been sentenced to death following extremely unfair trials - whilst terrorist attacks continue unabated,” the group said.
Only one person has been executed since 2008, a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.
Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.
Supporters of the death penalty in Pakistan argue that it is the only effective way to deal with the scourge of militancy.
The courts system is notoriously slow, with cases frequently dragging on for years, and there is a heavy reliance on witness testimony and very little protection for judges and prosecutors.
This means terror cases are hard to prosecute, as extremists are able to intimidate witnesses and lawyers into dropping charges.
Even when militants are locked up, they are often either freed soon afterwards on bail or able to continue their activities from behind bars.
Earlier this year a British man in jail in Rawalpindi for blasphemy was shot by a prison guard radicalised by an extremist prisoner.
In September a judge ordered a prisoner to be hanged over a murder committed in 1996, but the sentence has not yet been carried out.
In June last year Sharif’s newly elected government scrapped the moratorium in a bid to crack down on criminals and militants.
But two weeks later it announced a further stay of executions after an outcry from rights groups and the then-president Asif Ali Zardari.
European Union officials indicated last year that if Pakistan resumed executions, it could jeopardise a highly prized trade deal with the bloc.
An EU rights delegation warned it would be seen as a “major setback” if Pakistan restarted hangings.
The decision has also been prompted after the Prime Minister attended a briefing at Corps Headquarters Peshawar where the military high command complained that cases were being delayed in courts and those awarded death sentences were not being executed. The prime minister was told that until this issue was not resolved, the war against terrorism could not be won.

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