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(New York) – The Pakistani government should immediately halt a planned execution and officially reinstate its moratorium on the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. The execution of Shoaib Sarwar, scheduled for September 18, 2014, will end Pakistan’s unofficial six-year death penalty moratorium by civilian courts and return Pakistan to the dwindling ranks of countries imposing capital punishment.

The Jail Department scheduled Sarwar’s execution following President Mamnoon Hussain’s rejection of Sarwar’s clemency plea. The execution would be the first of a civilian in Pakistan since 2008. Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, one of the world’s largest populations of prisoners facing execution.

“Pakistan is about to revert to the odious practice of sending people to the gallows after a six-year unofficial moratorium,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should declare an official moratorium, commute all existing death sentences, and then join the international trend by abolishing the death penalty once and for all.”

The Rawalpindi District and Sessions Court sentenced Sarwar to death on July 2, 1998 for murder. The Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench rejected Sarwar’s appeal on July 2, 2003. On April 3, 2006, the Pakistani Supreme Court confirmed the sentence.

The Pakistani government’s move toward resuming the death penalty began on July 4, 2013, when the government of the newly elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, refused to renew a 2008 Presidential Order imposing a moratorium on executions. Pakistani law mandates capital punishment for 28 offenses, including murder, rape, treason, and blasphemy.

In June 2008, Human Rights Watch had written to then-Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, and met with him the following month urging action to abolish the death penalty and impose a moratorium pending abolition. Soon after the military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was ousted from the presidency in August 2008, the government imposed a de facto moratorium on judicial executions. The only exception was executions carried out by a military court.

During military rule, Pakistan each year executed among the highest number of people of any country. In 2005, for example, according to Amnesty International, Pakistan sentenced more than 241 people to death and executed at least 31, the fifth-highest total in the world.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. A majority of countries 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.

The government’s decision to end its unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty occurs in the wake of the government’s approval on July 8, 2014, of an overly broad and draconian counterterrorism law, the Protection of Pakistan Bill.

“Shoaib Sarwar’s execution would undo one of the Pakistani government’s most tangible human rights successes,” Adams said. “With such vague and overly broad criminal laws on the books, it could open the door to irreversible miscarriages of justice.” 

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