Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Will Pakistan's death row be emptied?

Up to 7,000 death row prisoners may be spared the prospect of execution after Pakistan's prime minister recommended the government commute death sentences as a tribute to his party's assassinated leader.

Yousuf Raza Gilani was leading celebrations on Saturday for the 55th birthday of Benazir Bhutto, the former leader of the PPP Party who was killed in an attack on an election rally in December.

"We have asked the Ministry of the Interior to send a recommendation to the president to convert the death sentence of prisoners to life in prison," he said, according to an Associated Press report.

Media reports of the recommendation suggested President Pervez Musharfaf was likely to agree to the recommendation, although it was not clear which death row prisoners would be covered by the amnesty.

It was also not clear if the proposal would benefit an Indian national whose family claimed was sentenced to death in a case of mistaken identity.

Pakistani authorities believe Manjit Singh was sentenced to death after being convicted of involvement in bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan in 1990.

His family claims he is in fact Indian farmer Sarabjit Singh, who accidentally strayed into Pakistan while working.

President Musharraf rejected his petition for mercy on 5 March 2008. His execution was set for 1 May, although it was later delayed.

The announcement is likely to give fresh impetus to the debate about abolition in Pakistan, which late last year voted against a United Nations resolution encouraging a moratorium on the death penalty.

Related stories:
Call for abolition: Pakistan columnist -- 17 October, 2006
Pakistan: Thousands in "brutal" system -- 12 October, 2006

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