Don't execute prisoners, Amnesty tells Pakistan

Islamabad, July 4 (IANS) The new Pakistani government must not resume executions and instead impose an immediate moratorium on the use of death penalty as a first step towards abolition, Amnesty International said.

Media reports in Pakistan over the past few days have suggested that the new government, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, may be moving rapidly to resume state killings in response to the law and order situation.

"Any government green light to resume executions in Pakistan would be a shocking and retrograde step, putting thousands of people's lives at risk," said Polly Truscott, Amnesty's deputy Asia Pacific director.

Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process, and could now be facing execution.

"The sheer number of people at risk makes the new government policy of turning back to the death penalty even more horrendous," said Truscott.

A presidential order imposing a moratorium on the death penalty, issued in 2008, expired June 30.

According to media reports, the government has no intention of extending the order. Instead, it was implementing a new policy to execute all death row prisoners except those whose mercy petitions have to be considered.

"As long as the death penalty is in place, the risk of executing innocent people can never be eliminated. The systemic fair trials violations in Pakistan not only exacerbate this risk, but also puts Pakistan in breach of its international obligations," said Truscott.

"We urge the government to immediately extend the moratorium order, with a view to eventually abolishing the use of capital punishment altogether."

With the exception of the execution of a soldier in November 2012, death sentences have not been carried out in Pakistan since 2008.