Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pakistan: Welcome to 'the world's largest death row'


Despite allegations of rights abuses, Pakistan continues to be one of the five most prolific executioners in the world.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | UK Desk
Source/Credit: Al Jazeera News
By Asad Hashim | April 11, 2017

Last year, Pakistan executed 87 people, making it the fifth most prolific executioner in the world, according to an annual report by Amnesty International

Exhausted from a full day's work, 25-year-old student Sohail Yafat knew he had one last stop to make before heading home: a visit to a colleague's ailing father at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology hospital, in his native Lahore, Pakistan's second city.

Yafat never expected the police to be there, waiting for him. He was arrested, and bundled into a police van.

"There was no warrant. This was all purely on suspicion," he says. "I was blindfolded, and I was brutally tortured and beaten on the way. I had never even entered a police station, so I had no idea of this world."

That was the summer of 2001. The police and a complainant had named him as an accomplice in a murder case in the town of Sahiwal, about 150km south. What followed for Yafat was harrowing: 10 years of imprisonment during which he was tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2011, a court exonerated him, acquitting him of his crimes for want of evidence.

"I was subjected to third-degree torture. They beat the soles of my feet with bamboo sticks. I was beaten with whips. I was kept awake, bound so that I was positioned bolt upright and unable to sleep," he recalls.

The maximum punishment for murder suspects in Pakistan is the death penalty - Yafat says he was terrified of receiving it. In the 10 years he spent in prison, having seen the conditions under which death row prisoners lived, he was determined to work for their rights, "to ease their pain", he says.

In 2014, the government lifted a six-year moratorium on executions as part of a counter-terrorism plan. It then expanded the use of executions to include non-terrorism offences in 2015, saying the measure was needed to combat crime.

Last year, Pakistan executed 87 people, making it the fifth most prolific executioner in the world, according to an annual report on the global use of the death penalty released by Amnesty International on Tuesday.

Together, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan accounted for 87 percent of all recorded worldwide executions, the report said. China is widely believed to execute thousands of people every year, but data on executions "is classified as a state secret", according to Amnesty.

In total, 1,032 executions were recorded in 2016, down by 37 percent, but death sentences were at the highest level since Amnesty began compiling statistics, with 3,117 people sentenced to death worldwide.

Of those, more than 360 people were sentenced in Pakistan, and are currently living on the world's largest recorded death row, home to more than 6,000 prisoners.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

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