Thursday, 12 October 2006

Pakistan: Thousands in "brutal" system

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported in early August that more than 7,400 men and 36 women are being held on death row waiting to be hanged.

The HRCP singled out Punjab as particularly "brutal", saying that 37 people were hanged in that province alone between January and late July.

It said this figure compared with 52 people hanged in the whole country last year.

About a tenth of Punjab's 53,000 prisoners are facing death, according to the IRIN News report, with many held in cells that measured about 10 square metres. The HRCP said the cells were built for a single prisoner but they were often used to house ten.

The HRCP said the prisoners were held in 81 jails across the country. Some prisoners had been held in these conditions for as long as ten years.

Rao Abid Hameed, from the HRCP's Vulnerable Prisoners Project, told IRIN News that people under sentence of death did not receive the same rights as other prisoners.

"They are very restricted in terms of time for exercise and access to other facilities available to other jail inmates," Hameed said.

Brutalised society
HRCP director IA Rehman told the BBC News website that the increase in hangings could be a result of government efforts to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

"The sad fact is that the increased number of executions have not really raised eyebrows or generated many public complaints," he said.

"Pakistan has become a brutalised society where people are exposed to killings on an almost daily basis."

Vendetta not justice
IA Rehman said many people had been executed as a result of "feudal vendettas" and not a fair justice system.

"The tragedy is that many people who have been hanged or are on death row have not received fair trials," he said.

"They are often the victims of feudal vendettas that take place in parts of Pakistan on a regular basis.

"Furthermore they are often convicted by courts or judicial tribunals which are not impartial and where police evidence is insufficient."

He said while some prisoners could wait as long as 15 years before they were hanged or had their sentence commuted, political cases were often finalised much sooner.

"In contrast people accused of terrorist offences - such as attempting to kill the president or a senior member of the establishment - can be sentenced and hanged within two years," he said.

International attention
The use of the death penalty in Pakistan has received international attention in recent months, with the planned execution of UK national Mirza Tahir Hussain.

Hussain, 36, was convicted of murder following what human rights groups have described as an unfair trial.

His execution has been delayed until after Ramadan, and President Pervez Musharraf has refused to intervene in the case.

HRCP figures indicate the following executions have been carried out in Pakistan in the past four years:

2003: 18 people
2004: 15 people
2005: 52 people
2006: 41 people (to late July)

Related stories:
Pakistan: Hanging delayed, but how long? -- 03 October, 2006
UK pressure over Pakistan hanging -- 01 October, 2006

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