(New York) – The Pakistan government should halt the scheduled September 22, 2015, execution of Abdul Basit, who is paralyzed from the waist down, Human Rights Watch said today. The case underscores the inherent cruelty of capital punishment by the execution of a person with a severe disability.
Basit, a former administrator at a medical college, was sentenced to death in 2009, after being convicted of murder. He became paralyzed after contracting tubercular meningitis in 2010 while in the central jail in Faisalabad.
“Rather than confronting the inherent cruelty of capital punishment, Pakistani officials are puzzling over how to hang a man in a wheelchair,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should urgently commute Abdul Basit’s sentence.”
Basit’s execution was earlier scheduled for July 29. On July 28, the Lahore High Court accepted a petition challenging Basit’s execution on the basis that it would constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, contravening Pakistan’s prison rules and violating Basit’s fundamental rights under Pakistan’s constitution and international law. On September 1, the Lahore High Court dismissed Basit’s petition, ruling that since the hanging of a paralyzed prisoner was not expressly forbidden by the prison rules, there was no bar to the execution.
On December 17, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rescinded a four-year unofficial moratorium on capital punishment in apparent response to the December 16 attack by the Pakistani Taliban splinter group Tehreek-e-Taliban on a school in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan that left at least 148 dead – almost all of them children.
The Pakistani government has executed 236 people this year, making Pakistan responsible for the largest number of reported executions in the world in 2015. Despite government claims that the death penalty is necessary to confront terrorism, only a small percentage of those executed were linked to militancy.
Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, one of the world’s largest populations of prisoners facing execution. Pakistani law mandates capital punishment for 28 offenses, including murder, rape, treason, and blasphemy. Those on death row are often from the most marginalized sections of society, such as Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court on charges of blasphemy. In many cases, particularly those involving the poor, accused persons facing capital punishment do not receive adequate assistance of counsel.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and irrevocability. Pakistan’s use of the death penalty is inconsistent with international human rights law, according to statements of United Nations human rights experts and various UN bodies because of the fundamental nature of the right to life, the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people, and the absence of proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime.
Pakistan should join with the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly’s 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions and a move by UN member countries toward abolition of the death penalty.
“The death penalty is an inherently cruel and irrevocable punishment that doesn’t solve any of the complex security problems facing the Pakistani people,” Adams said. “The Pakistani government should strengthen its justice system rather than sending more people like Abdul Basit to the gallows. The government should place an official moratorium on capital punishment until the practice is abolished.”