Boris Johnson makes first Pakistan trip, amid new death sentences

November 24, 2016

Image of a noose hanging in a dark room

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has been urged to use his first visit to Pakistan today to press for an end to the death penalty – and warned that UK policing assistance may have contributed to the handing down of fresh death sentences.

The Foreign Secretary arrived in Pakistan today for his first visit to the country, a close UK ally. Mr Johnson tweeted that he was “looking forward to getting to know this great country.” The visit comes amid fresh concerns that UK assistance may be contributing to the sweeping use of the death penalty in Pakistan. Some 418 people have been executed in the past two years, including juveniles, people suffering from mental illness, and prisoners who were found to be innocent after their deaths.

The UK Government has provided millions of pounds to Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) in recent years, which is responsible for raids that have seen alleged drug offenders arrested and sentenced to death. Last week, the ANF announced that this year had seen several more prisoners sentenced to death on drugs charges. In a statement, the body’s Director-General counted death sentences and other convictions as evidence of a “90 per cent success rate.”

International human rights organization Reprieve – which assists those facing the death penalty in Pakistan – has this week written to Mr Johnson warning of the new death sentences, and asking him to tell Pakistan that the UK may reconsider its policing assistance if executions continue.

The use of the death penalty for non-violent drugs offences is prohibited under international law, and the UK Government has previously told Reprieve that counter-narcotics assistance to Pakistan “must not compromise our clear opposition to the use of capital punishment in all circumstances, including for drug offences.” However, the assistance has continued since Pakistan resumed executions in December 2014.

Mr Johnson’s trip follows a meeting he had last week with Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar, who has responsibility for criminal justice and the use of the death penalty.

Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“Boris Johnson is visiting Pakistan amid a wave of executions that has seen juveniles and innocent people sentenced to death. Meanwhile Pakistani police, funded by the UK, continue to boast of their ‘success’ in sentencing people to death. The UK’s opposition to the death penalty must extend to the Foreign Secretary calling strongly for an end to executions and death sentences, particularly for drug offences – and warning Pakistan that British assistance will have to end if these terrible abuses continue.”


Notes to Editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at], or +44 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at]

2. More information about UK assistance to Pakistan’s police can be seen here, and at the Reprieve website.

3. Reprieve’s letter to the Foreign Secretary is available on request.