UK Government fights to keep links to Pakistan executions secret

February 8, 2015

A case concerning whether the Government should be allowed to keep secret evidence which could show it has contributed to executions in Pakistan will be heard tomorrow (Monday 9 February) by the Information Rights Tribunal (IRT).

Legal charity Reprieve has warned ministers that, by funding organisations such as Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force – which cites the number of death sentences it secures as a key ‘achievement’ – public money could be helping support executions overseas.

This is directly at odds with the UK’s long-standing policy of opposition to the death penalty. Reprieve has asked the Government what safeguards (if any) it has in place to prevent public money from funding executions in Pakistan, and what assessments it has carried out. However, ministers have refused to provide any detail, beyond pointing to the existence of guidance on Overseas Justice and Security Assistance (OSJA).

The OSJA is a wide-ranging piece of guidance which requires ministers to consider whether UK support for policing and security operations could lead to complicity in serious human rights abuses, such as torture and the death penalty.

However, ministers have rebuffed Freedom of Information requests from Reprieve asking whether they had sought reassurances from the Pakistani authorities that UK support would not contribute to the imposition of death sentences for drugs offences. The questions have become more pressing since Pakistan lifted a moratorium on executions in December last year.

The UK previously ceased funding to Iranian counter-narcotics programmes because of concerns that doing so was contributing to executions.  However, despite Pakistan resuming executions – and the country’s imposition of the death penalty for non-violent drugs offences – it has yet to take similar steps with regard to that country. In addition, Reprieve has established that a number of people facing the hangman on drugs charges in Pakistan are British citizens.

Reprieve is also concerned by the Government’s attempts to impose yet more secrecy on the process – insisting that the vast majority of the case is heard in secret, without Reprieve, the organisation’s lawyers, or even a Government-appointed security-cleared lawyer known as a ‘Special Advocate’ allowed to be present.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“Ministers need to come clean on whether public money is effectively being used to fund executions in Pakistan.  We know that the UK has channelled millions to the country’s anti-narcotics force, which actively boasts about the number of death sentences it has secured – largely for people who are accused of non-violent offences.   It is deeply disappointing that rather than explaining to the public how their money is being spent, ministers are fighting tooth and nail in the courts to keep this secret.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 7791 755 415 / donald [DOT] campbell [AT] reprieve [DOT] org [DOT] uk