For Immediate Release
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Pakistan Court Grants Stay of Execution to Paraplegic Prisoner
LONDON - A court in Pakistan today stayed the execution of a paraplegic man who was set to hang tomorrow (Wednesday).
Abdul Basit, 43, was convicted and sentenced to death for murder in 2009. In 2010, he contracted tubercular meningitis in prison, which left him paralysed from the waist down. Despite being unable to stand, and reliant on a wheelchair, a ‘Black Warrant’ issued last week scheduled his execution for July 29th.
The Lahore High Court today upheld an appeal by lawyers for Basit who argued that his execution would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, violating the fundamental right to human dignity enshrined in Pakistan’s Constitution.
The Pakistan Prison Rules of 1978 – the statute regulating executions – state that the rope for hanging must be the correct length, in order to avoid prisoners facing protracted strangulation (if it is too long) or decapitation (if it is too short). The rules state that the rope’s length is determined by measuring it from “the lower jaw of the condemned prisoner as he stands on the scaffold.” This and other procedures set out in the Prison Rules cannot be followed in Basit’s case, leaving open the possibility of a botched hanging.
The Court has now given the government two weeks to respond to the appeal with a hearing scheduled for August 17th.
Pakistan’s law makes provisions for mercy to be granted in cases where prisoners are suffering from severe “ill-health”. The Government’s failure to acknowledge this and commute Basit’s sentence appears to form part of a worrying trend involving the blanket dismissal of all mercy petitions considered since executions resumed in 2014. Over 180 prisoners have been hanged in Pakistan’s recent rush to the gallows and recent reports suggest that many more who have now had their mercy petitions dismissed without proper consideration may be next in line.
Among them is Shafqat Hussain, convicted and sentenced to death when under 18, who was yesterday issued with a ‘black warrant’. His execution has been set for August 4th despite widespread concerns over torture and the government covering up evidence – notably a school record – that could prove his age.
Kate Higham, caseworker at human rights NGO Reprieve, said: “We are enormously relieved by the court’s decision today. To allow Pakistan's government to continue with the hanging of a paraplegic man would have been in clear violation of Pakistani law, not to mention an affront to basic common decency. The government must now commute Basit’s sentence.”
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.