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Human rights groups decry Pakistan's first execution in four years

November 16, 2012|By Alex Rodriguez

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Human rights groups have denounced Pakistan’s decision this week to carry out its first execution in four years, calling it a worrying step backward in a country that had been adhering to an informal moratorium on capital punishment since 2008.

Muhammad Hussain, 45, was executed by hanging Thursday at a jail in the central Punjab city of Mianwali. A former soldier, he was sentenced to death in 2009 for fatally stabbing one of his superiors over a personal dispute in the eastern Pakistani city of Okara. His pleas to both the country’s military and civilian leadership for a stay had been previously rejected.

Pakistani government officials said the country’s moratorium on executions applies only to civilian justice and not military court, the venue for Hussain’s conviction and sentence.

Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said in a prepared statement that she was “deeply shocked” by Hussain’s execution. “The government had vowed its commitment to the right to life and desisted from executing anyone….Despite this setback, HRCP still retains hope that the government will not abandon its pledge to work towards the abolition of the death penalty in Pakistan.”

Polly Truscott, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program, said while the Pakistani government maintains Hussain’s execution was an exception because it involved military jurisdiction, “the death penalty is no less offensive to human dignity and the right to life, just because the person to be killed happens to be a soldier.”

Agence France-Presse quoted French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot as saying Hussain’s execution is “a step backward in Pakistan’s move toward greater respect for human rights.”

There are currently more than 8,300 people on death row in Pakistan. Before the ruling Pakistan People’s Party government stopped executions in late 2008, Pakistan had been regarded as heavily reliant on capital punishment, registering 135 executions in 2007, according to Amnesty International. Pakistan’s last execution, carried out in November 2008, was also the result of a military court verdict.

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