Human rights groups are decrying Pakistan's decision to execute some 500 terror-related convicts in the coming weeks, calling it misplaced retribution for last week's deadly Taliban attack on a Peshawar army school that killed more than 140 people, the majority of them children.
"Interior ministry has finalized the cases of five hundred convicts who have exhausted all the appeals, their mercy petitions have been turned down by the president and their executions will take place in coming weeks," a senior government official told Agence France-Presse on Monday. Rights groups believe Pakistan has about 8,000 prisoners on death row, more than 500 of them for terrorist offenses.
The death penalty was under a six-year moratorium in Pakistan before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's decision to reverse it in the wake of last Tuesday's massacre.
"Pakistan’s government has chosen to indulge in vengeful blood-lust instead of finding and prosecuting those responsible for the horrific Peshawar attack," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "The government's death penalty spree is a craven politicized reaction to the Peshawar killings that will do nothing to bring the attackers to justice."
Several prisoners have already been executed following the attack. According to Reuters:
Pakistan hanged four Islamist militants on Sunday in the second set of executions since the government lifted a moratorium after the Taliban massacred 132 children and nine others at a school last week.
None of those hanged has anything to do with Tuesday's school rampage in Peshawar, and some Pakistani commentators have said the executions are intended to divert attention from the failure to satisfy public demands to find the killers.
Four prisoners were executed at the tightly guarded Faisalabad jail for their role in attacking former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, a senior government official said. Two others had been hanged at the same jail on Friday.
The international legal charity Reprieve is calling particular attention to the case of Shafqat Hussain, from the province of Sindh, who was arrested in 2004 at the age of 14 and is set to be executed on Tuesday. Pakistani authorities have acknowledged that Hussain is not connected to the Peshawar school attack nor to "any banned outfit," but say they have no plans to stay his execution.
"Killing a man who was arrested as a juvenile and tortured into a 'confession' will not bring justice—it will merely add to the tragedy of the Peshawar school attack," said Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith. "This resumption of executions is putting more innocent lives at risk, and gravely threatening Pakistan’s commitment to the rule of law. Even Government officials are now admitting that Shafqat, among others, has nothing to do with terrorism—the authorities must then change course, before it is too late."
Germany, which opposes the death penalty, has also condemned Pakistan's decision to execute the 500 alleged extremists.
"I want to point out the moratorium implemented by Pakistan in 2008 is the best way," Germany’s deputy foreign minister spokeswoman Sawsan Chebli said on Monday, referring to the unofficial moratorium on the death penalty that had been in place since the ouster of military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf. "At this point, as underlined many times before, the death penalty is an inhuman and cruel way of punishment."
Also on Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, criticized both Pakistan and Jordan for resuming executions "at a time when the international community is increasingly turning away from the use of the death penalty."
"It is very unfortunate that Pakistan and Jordan have resumed executions, reversing the moratoria on the death penalty that they had commendably put in place in 2008 and 2006 respectively," Zeid said. "This is particularly disappointing given that just last week, a record 117 States voted in the UN General Assembly in favour of an international moratorium on the use of the death penalty."
Zeid stressed that "no justice system, no matter how robust, can guarantee against wrongful convictions."