Death Sentences for drug offences in Pakistan have tripled since 2009

November 20, 2012

Image of a shadow of a noose hanging on a cracked wall

According to a new report launched today [Tuesday, November 20th] Pakistan saw a threefold increase in death sentences handed down for drug offences between 2009 and 2011. The report’s findings will raise concern for British national Khadija Shah who is currently facing the death penalty in Pakistan where she is imprisoned with her newborn baby.

The release of Death Penalty for Drug Offences, Global Overview 2012 comes on the heels of Pakistan’s first execution in four years despite a moratorium in the country.

The report, launched today [Tuesday] by Harm Reduction International at the House of Lords, highlights those countries which are going against the trend towards global abolition.

In Iran, more than 540 people were executed for drugs in 2011. This figure is five times more than were executed in 2008. Executions for drug offences have also increased in Saudi Arabia where at least sixteen people were executed for drug offences in the first six months of 2012, compared with one person in 2011.

Ms Shah, from Birmingham, was arrested earlier this year while heavily pregnant. On September 15th, 2012, she gave birth but was back in prison just days later, along with baby Malaika. Mother and daughter are currently imprisoned in Adiala jail which was recently hit by an outbreak of tuberculosis.

Baby Malaika is covered in mosquito bites and has so far had none of her immunisations. She was taken to hospital when she was just a few days old because of severe diarrhoea.  She is having none of the standard post-natal care that is her due.

Reprieve investigator, Maya Foa, said: Khadija Shah is an extremely vulnerable young woman. Imprisoned in the infamous Adiala jail in Pakistan, facing a possible death sentence, Khadija’s life – as well as that of her newborn baby – is seriously at risk. It’s a terrible situation – and one that the British government has helped to create. They must now do all in their power to save Khadija’s life and help her baby girl.


Notes to Editors:

1. For further information contact Clemency Wells or Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s Press Office: 0207 553 8161 / /

2. Launch event details:

Date: Tuesday, 20 November 2012: 6pm-7.30pm
Venue: Committee Room 4A, House of Lords
Chair: Baroness Vivien Stern, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty
Speakers: Rick Lines, Executive Director, Harm Reduction International
Maya Foa, Head of Stop the Lethal Injection Project (SLIP), Reprieve
Parvais Jabbar/Saul Lehrfreund, Executive Director, Death Penalty Project
Chiara Sangiorgio, Campaigner against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International

3. In May 2012, British citizen Khadija Shah, a pregnant, twenty-five year- old mother of two, was arrested at Islamabad airport in Pakistan en route to Birmingham, UK, with 140 pounds of heroin. UN Office on Drugs and Crime Project PAK/J61 was a four-year, $3 million USD project that started in 2007 and was funded entirely by the government of Canada. This project aimed at strengthening government capacity at international transit points, including airports, in Pakistan. The project provided the national Anti Narcotics Force and other law enforcement agencies with screening equipment, such as x-ray machines, as well as urine-testing equipment, at national airports including in Islamabad where Ms Shah was arrested. The project also included training in the detection of drugs, specifically teaching personnel how to identify drugs in the luggage of air travellers.

4. Further key findings of Tipping the Scales for Abolition include:

  • 33 states or territories retain the death penalty for drug offences, an increase in the past year due to the creation of South Sudan. Only 13 now retain the mandatory death penalty for drug offences.
  • Fewer than 10 countries in fact carried out executions for drug offences in 2011/2012, confirming international movements away from the practice.
  • No executions for drug offences in Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand in 2011/2012, but death sentences continue to be handed down in high numbers in Malaysia (at least 83 in 2011).
  • Among the small group of states carrying out executions, many hundreds were put to death – the majority in China and Iran.
  • In Iran executions for drugs have increased five-fold since 2008 to over 500 per year (in both 2010 and 2011), often without fair trial. Public hangings are common and execution rates have remained high in 2012.
  • Beheadings for drug offences have taken place in Saudi Arabia. At least 16 people were executed in the first six months of 2012, a considerable increase compared with one person executed for drugs in the whole of 2011.
  • Death sentences have tripled in Pakistan, from at least 5 in 2009, to at least 16 in 2011.
  • Data on the death penalty remain a state secret in China and Viet Nam meaning that the true number of those sentenced and put to death is unknown. China is widely considered to remain the country that executes the most people each year.

5. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’ Follow Reprieve on twitter: @ReprieveUK; if you were forwarded this release, sign up to join our press mailing list.