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Calls For End to UK ‘Aid for Executions’ as Pakistan Hangings Catch Government Off Guard

LONDON - The Government defended controversial UK ‘aid for executions’ to Pakistan on the mistaken understanding that Pakistan would not resume hangings, it’s emerged.

On 11 December, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wrote to legal charity Reprieve, which assists some death row prisoners in Pakistan, saying “it is clear that a de facto moratorium remains the policy of the Pakistani Government.” He said he was assured of this position following “high-level discussions” with Prime Minister Sharif, the details of which he was “unable to share”.

The letter from Mr Clegg came as Reprieve called for an immediate freeze on UK counternarcotics aid to Pakistan in light of the country’s resumption of executions, which has seen a number of prisoners hanged over the past few days.

While it has been claimed that the first prisoners to be executed will be “terrorists”, it’s emerged that some of the first eight prisoners to have a “black warrant” issued in their names have been convicted of offences bearing no relation to terrorism.

This morning, a High Court judge ruled that he had no jurisdiction to prevent the execution of Shafqat Hussain, who was arrested in 2004 at the age of 14 and tortured into a ‘confession’ before being sentenced to death. There is now nothing to prevent Mr Hussain from being hanged in the coming days.


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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to end his country’s six-year moratorium also endangers the lives of at least 112 drug offenders languishing on Pakistan’s 8,000-strong death row, including six British nationals sentenced to death in trials falling short of international standards.

According to a recent Reprieve report, in the last year alone the UK has given more than $20 million to anti-narcotics forces in Pakistan through the UN’s Office for Drugs and Crime – more than the next three largest European funders put together. Last year, Mr Clegg wrote to Reprieve acknowledging that the UK had ceased providing support of this nature to Iran because the Government shared the concerns of other European States (including Denmark and Ireland), which had withdrawn such funding having concluded that “the donations are leading to executions”.

The UK has thus far refused to suspend similar funding for Pakistan, despite the fact that death sentences are still handed down for drug offenders, while the country’s Anti-Narcotics Force has stated publicly that “bringing culprits to the task through effective prosecution” is the “priority of the command”.

With executions now under way, Reprieve has called for the Government to freeze all law enforcement-led funding for counter-narcotics work in Pakistan, and make any future such funding conditional on an end to the death penalty for drug offences.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said: “The Government has repeatedly justified the maintenance of British counter-narcotics aid to Pakistan on the basis of the death penalty moratorium. It is now clear ministers were wrong, and lives are at risk. Now is the time for the UK to act on the principle it accepted when withdrawing similar aid to Iran – funding these aggressive operations in countries that execute drug offenders endangers lives. The UK must take decisive action and freeze this aid until the death penalty for drug offences is abolished in Pakistan.”


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Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.

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