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Send Home Terminally Ill Pakistani on Indonesia’s Death Row

Pakistani Leader Should Raise Case with Visiting President Jokowi

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

This week’s visit by Indonesia President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to Pakistan may determine how Zulfiqar Ali spends his final days – on death row in Indonesia, or with his family back home in Pakistan.

Ali, a 53-year-old father of five from Lahore, was arrested in 2004 in Indonesia, charged with possession of 300 grams of heroin, and sentenced to death. In 2016, Indonesia informed the Pakistani embassy in Jakarta that Ali would be soon executed.

Ali’s lawyers alleged egregious violations of due process at every stage of the trial and appeal process. They say he has been diagnosed with advanced liver cancer with a life expectancy of three months.

Indonesia ended a four-year unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in March 2013. The Indonesian government has termed the execution of convicted drug traffickers as “shock therapy” and President Jokowi has made it a signature policy issue.

Ali was scheduled to be executed in July 2016, but received a last-minute reprieve after diplomatic intervention by the Pakistani government and pressure from human rights groups. But he remains on death row.

The flaws in Indonesia’s use of the death penalty were highlighted in a July 2016 investigation by the Indonesian ombudsman who found denial of legal rights in a case involving a Nigerian national. In January 2015, the execution of a Brazilian national led to a diplomatic crisis between Indonesia and Brazil. President Jokowi admirably seeks to prevent executions of Indonesians convicted abroad, which is undercut by his easy acceptance of the death penalty at home.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi should urge President Jokowi to commute Zulfiqar Ali’s sentence and release him on medical grounds so he can spend his last days with his family. But the Pakistani government can also make its case stronger – and bring Pakistan within a growing circle of nations – by halting its own executions.

Prime Minister Abbasi and President Jokowi could each end these killings by recognizing the well-documented failure of the death penalty as a crime deterrent and reinstating their unofficial moratoriums on capital punishment – as a first step to banning this inherently cruel practice.

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