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Dispatches: Pakistan’s Death Penalty Hypocrisy

Government Seeks Death Row Mercy From Indonesia

Pakistan’s government is working hard to dissuade Indonesia from executing Zulfikar Ali, a Pakistani citizen on death row since 2005 for drug smuggling. Pakistan says Ali’s “trial was not fair.” The Indonesian government has yet to respond to the request to spare Ali from its latest looming death penalty spree. Those executions are part of President Joko Widodo’s signature policy of executing convicted drug traffickers as a form of judicial “shock therapy” against a perceived domestic drug emergency.

Activists from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) carry placards during a demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 10, 2015. © 2015 Getty Images

Pakistan’s pursuit of mercy for a death row prisoner in Indonesia stands in stark contrast to its own embrace of the death penalty, not just for drug smugglers, but in response to the horrific December 2014 attack by the Pakistani extremist group Tehreek-e-Taliban on a school in Peshawar. The attack, which left at least 148 dead – almost all of them children – prompted the government to lift an informal moratorium on the use of the death penalty and push through a constitutional amendment permitting military courts to prosecute civilian terrorism suspects. The human toll of those decisions has been appalling: 416 executions since late 2014, through June 2016.

Pakistan is right to be concerned about the fairness of Ali’s trial in Indonesia, but the government has been dismissive of allegations of unfair trials of its own death row prisoners. Among those executed was Shafqat Hussain, hanged on August 4, 2014, despite evidence he was 14 or 15-years-old when sentenced in 2004 for kidnapping and killing a 7-year-old boy, and that his confession may have resulted from police torture.

Pakistan should urge Indonesia to stop the execution of Zulfikar Ali, but it should also call a halt to its own hangings. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indonesian President Joko Widodo could each end these killings by recognizing the well-documented failure of the death penalty as a crime deterrent and reinstating the unofficial moratorium on capital punishment. This is an opportunity both leaders should take advantage of.

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