Pakistan says it ‘may limit’ death penalty, amid fears for mentally ill prisoner

September 28, 2016

Image of a noose hanging in a dark room

Pakistan says it is seeking ways to limit the scope of the death penalty, amid fears for a mentally ill prisoner who faces hanging as early as next week.

Speaking on Monday at an event at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the first secretary of Pakistan’s Permanent Mission to the UN said the government was examining the country’s penal code to determine whether the death penalty could be “narrowed”, saying: “We are looking at the option of enhancing the duration of life sentence instead of awarding death sentences.” She added: “Pakistan remains fully committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of all our citizens.”

Pakistan has executed some 419 people since the lifting of a moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014, making it one of the world’s most prolific executing states. Research last year by Reuters and human rights organization Reprieve found that  – despite a claim by the Pakistani government to be targeting ‘terrorists’  – fewer than one in six of those prisoners who had been hanged could be linked to militancy.

Among those currently facing execution is Imdad Ali, a former electrician who is severely mentally ill. Yesterday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Mr Ali to stop his hanging, which had been scheduled to take place last week. Ruling that Imdad’s execution could go ahead, the Court said that a large proportion of prisoners in Pakistan suffer from mental illness and that they “cannot let everyone go.” He could now be hanged as early as next week, despite a prison medical report from earlier this month describing him as “insane.”

The execution of mentally ill people is prohibited under Pakistani and international law. Yesterday, several UN human rights experts urged Pakistan to halt Mr Ali’s execution, while Amnesty International and the Asian Human Rights Commission have also called for the hanging to be stopped.

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

“While it’s encouraging to hear that Pakistan’s government may finally be turning away from its recent shameful spree of executions, the authorities must act now to prevent another illegal hanging. Imdad Ali could be executed within days, despite the government’s own doctors having declared him ‘insane’ – his hanging would be a grave breach of Pakistani and international law. If Pakistan’s leaders are serious about scaling back the death penalty, they must start right away, and call off Imdad’s execution.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org

2. More detail on the comments made at yesterday’s UNHRC event is available on request.

3. A statement by four UN rights experts, made yesterday, can be seen here; Amnesty International’s comments can be seen here; while the Asian Human Rights Commission’s comments are here.

4. Reuters’ 2015 piece on executions in Pakistan can be seen here.

5. More information about Imdad Ali is available at the Reprieve website.