Thousands of death row prisoners in Pakistan were brought a step closer to the gallows yesterday as Pakistan’s government confirmed a change in its policy on the death penalty by announcing that executions would resume for all capital crimes.

A chilling announcement

"This shameful retreat to the gallows is no way to resolve Pakistan’s pressing security and law and order problems," said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

"Three people have already been executed this year for non-terrorism-related offences. This announcement is a chilling confirmation of the extent of the government’s execution plans."

Death penalty now not only for terrorism cases

Last December, authorities in Pakistan partially lifted a moratorium on the death penalty which had been in place since 2008. Coming in the wake of a massacre of mostly schoolchildren in Peshawar, this relaxation of the ban allowed the death penalty to be used only in terrorism cases.

However, the 24 people executed in Pakistan since then have included at least three people whose alleged crimes had nothing to do with terrorism. Yesterday’s decision would once again allow executions to be carried out for all capital crimes.

Unfair trials

Several thousand people are believed to be on death row for a range of offences in Pakistan. Many death sentences are handed down after unfair trials characterized by a lack of access to legal counsel and the acceptance of evidence inadmissible under international law.

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"Pakistan is swimming against the global current, as the vast majority of countries have now rejected the death penalty in law or practice. It is the ultimate cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment and has not been proven to act as a deterrent. The use of the death penalty is always abhorrent, but it raises additional concerns in a country like Pakistan where trials are routinely unfair," said Rupert Abbott.

As of today, 140 countries are abolitionist in law or practice. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt or innocence of the individual; or the method of execution.