8000 death row prisoners at risk as Pakistan plans execution of non-terrorists

January 28, 2015

A Pakistani Court has ordered the first execution of a prisoner who was neither charged with terrorism offences nor tried in a terrorism court, indicating that the authorities may have abandoned their claim that they will hang only alleged ‘terrorists.’

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Government lifted a moratorium on executions late last year, but has repeatedly stated that it was doing so only in  “terrorism-related cases.”

However, a ‘black warrant’ has now been issued for Shoaib Sarwar, who was convicted of murder 17 years ago, following a trial process which saw a number of irregularities.  The authorities do not consider Mr Sarwar to be a terrorist, or his case to be in any way terrorism-related.  His execution has been scheduled for Tuesday, 3rd February.

At the time of his conviction, Mr Sarwar claimed to have been acting in self-defence, but due to bad advice from his defence counsel, a number of key witnesses who could have supported this were never called – although newspaper reports and eyewitnesses at the scene had both corroborated his version of events.

Due to the widespread misuse of anti-terror legislation – which expressly curtails the fair trial rights of the defendant  – Pakistan has previously made attempts to execute people who cannot properly be classed as terrorists.  However, Mr Sarwar’s case is the first in which a black warrant has been issued for someone who not only was convicted of non-terrorist offences, but was not even convicted in a terrorism court.

Commenting, Kate Higham, an investigator at legal charity Reprieve said: “If the Pakistani Government wants anyone to believe their claim that they are only executing ‘terrorists,’ they must stop Shoaib Sarwar’s execution from going ahead.   If it does, all 8000 people on Pakistan’s death row – many of whom have been tortured into ‘confessing,’ or who have been convicted of non-lethal offences such as blasphemy or adultery – will be at risk.  The international community must make clear to Pakistan that it will not tolerate such an opening of the floodgates, which could see many innocent people losing their lives.”

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8140

2. On December 18, 2014, The Express Tribune quoted Nawaz Sharif’s office as saying that “The prime minister has approved abolishment of the moratorium on the execution of death penalty in terrorism-related cases.”