Developments within the last few years
Pakistan was again among the top five countries worldwide with the highest execution rate, with at least 60 executions in 2017. In fact, only China and Iran executed more people in 2015: Amnesty International estimates that at least 326 executions were carried out between the lifting of the moratorium on executions in December 2014 and the end of 2015.
The actual numbers may be higher, according to Amnesty International. In 2016, according to Human Rights Watch, at least 85 executions are believed to have taken place, and this despite the fact that there were initially positive developments regarding the death penalty over a longer period of time: In 2008, 36 people were still executed, but the Pakistani government announced a moratorium on executions later that year. As a result, on July 9, 2008, the head of government commuted the death sentences of over 7,000 prisoners to life imprisonment. Some critical discussions remained, such as whether the death penalty should remain in connection with blasphemy. (In 1986, the “blasphemy” law had gone into effect, punishing blasphemy, including disparaging remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, with fines, imprisonment, and even death) However, the moratorium remained in place for nearly 6 years. In 2019, 14 executions were carried out, according to Amnesty International.
Lifting of the moratorium in 2014/ 2015
Due to a December 2014 attack on a school in Peshawar by the Pakistani Taliban that killed over 140 people, the government lifted the moratorium on terrorist offenses that had been in place since 2008. Death sentences could thus be imposed and carried out again for terrorist crimes and acts. Within weeks, some 20 militants were executed; 500 other convicted terrorists and mass murderers have since been awaiting execution, according to local authorities.
In March 2015, Pakistani authorities announced that the moratorium had been fully rescinded and that the death penalty could again be imposed and carried out without restriction. By June 2015, 180 people had already been executed within 6 months of the Peshawar school massacre. The execution toll continued to rise to over 300 by November 2015, and Amnesty International estimates that there were at least 8,500 death row prisoners in Pakistan in 2015 .
The lifting of the moratorium has been heavily criticized by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Reprieve, and not only because of the general exercise of the death penalty: the Protection of Pakistan Act of 2014, passed by the Pakistani government in 2014, gives security forces as well as police wide latitude, allowing arbitrary arrests and also the use of lethal force and secret trials. Defendants thus have no means of defense, nor can arrests and sentences be objectively reviewed.
The usual method of execution in Pakistan is hanging, with juveniles not excluded from the death penalty; in August 2015, for example, Shafquat Hussain, who was 15 years old at the time of his alleged crime, was executed after 11 years in prison. Those who are seriously mentally ill or mentally disabled can also be executed in Pakistan.
Sources and further information:
Justice Project Pakistan (PPP), “Counting the Condemned,” 2018 report. reprieve; Amnesty International, ” Death Sentences and Executions 2015,” annual report, published April 2016; Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2017: Pakistan,” annual report, published 2017; Amnesty International, ” Death Sentences and Executions 2017,” published April 2018.
As of February 2020