(New York, May 15, 2012) – The government of Pakistan should halt the scheduled hanging on May 23, 2012, of Behram Khan for the murder of a lawyer in 2003.
On May 10, Judge Ghulam Mustafa Memon of Karachi’s Anti Terrorist Court directed officials at the central prison in Karachi to hang Khan, who has been on death row since June 2003. Khan had been convicted of the killing of the lawyer, Mohammad Ashraf, on the premises of the Sindh High Court in Karachi. The hanging would end Pakistan’s unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in place since 2009.
“The Pakistani government has rightly not carried out executions since 2009,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of resorting to this barbaric practice, the government should declare the moratorium officially, commute all existing death sentences, and then abolish the death penalty for all crimes.”
On April 15, 2003, Khan and Police Sub-Inspector Pir Bux entered the Sindh High Court intending to kill Qurban Ali Chauhan, the lawyer for an accused under trial for the killing of Khan’s uncle. Khan killed Ashraf in a case of mistaken identity. An anti-terrorist court sentenced Khan to death on June 25, 2003. Pir Bux was sentenced to life in prison for abetting the murder.
An appeal against the execution sentence in the Sindh High Court was rejected, as was a subsequent appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. A mercy petition filed with President Asif Zardari was also rejected earlier in May, leading to the order by Memon.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. A majority of countries in the world have abolished the practice. On December 18, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution by a wide margin calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
In June 2008, Human Rights Watch wrote to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani urging action to abolish the death penalty and to impose a moratorium pending abolition. In a meeting with Human Rights Watch the following month, Gilani agreed to enforce a moratorium on executions. Soon after military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf was ousted from office in 2008, Pakistan imposed a widely hailed de facto moratorium on judicial executions.
“Under military rule, the number of people executed every year in Pakistan was among the highest in the world,” Hasan said. “It would be a tragedy if Behram Khan’s execution goes ahead and derails one of the government’s most tangible human rights successes.”