Pakistan executions surge a year after Peshawar attack

At least eight death-row convicts hanged as concerns raised over due process a year after deadly Peshawar school attack.

First anniversary of school attack in Peshawar
Pakistan lifted a six-year moratorium on the death penalty after an attack on a Peshawar school killed 136 children [EPA]

Eight death-row prisoners were executed on Tuesday in Pakistan – a before the anniversary of the Peshawar school massacre – with rights activists raising questions over whether due process was being followed.

The latest state killings brought to 310 the number of executions since the government lifted a six-year moratorium on the death penalty last December – after the Peshawar attack that killed 144 people, who were mostly schoolchildren.

“There are serious concerns regarding the due process followed in these cases,” Asma Jahangir, a leading Pakistani human rights activist, told Al Jazeera. “Capital punishment does not help curb terrorism.”

READ MORE: ‘I witnessed the Peshawar massacre’

Pakistan now ranks third behind China and Iran in the number of executions this year.

Jahangir has been calling on Pakistan’s government to put a halt to the death penalty.
“Making Pakistan into a slaughterhouse is insane,” she told Washington-based National Public Radio earlier this year.

The death penalty was initially limited to terrorism cases, but its scope was later expanded to include all death-row convicts.

In September, Pakistan hanged a man named Ansar Iqbal who was a child when he committed the crime, despite calls for clemency.

The planned execution of paraplegic prisoner Abdul Basit – scheduled to be hanged on November 25 – was postponed after the country’s president intervened following a chorus of criticism from rights groups.

“Most people executed had nothing to do with terrorism. Death sentences are not an answer to the problem,” Zahid Hussian, a security analyst based in the capital, Islamabad, told Al Jazeera by phone.

“In Pakistan, rule of law is lacking and its legal process is not effective. As a result, many terrorists are not convicted for lack of evidence and legal loopholes. Moreover, judges fear handling terrorist cases as they have been threatened,” he said.

Human rights obligations

International rights bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also urged Pakistan’s government to stop executions, as more than 7,000 death-row prisoners are awaiting the gallows.

“Pakistan should halt executions immediately, comply with its human rights obligations, and take steps to phase out this punishment once and for all,” Amnesty said in statement.

The school attack claimed by the Taliban left more than 100 children dead and prompted the South Asian nation’s powerful military to intensify operations in tribal areas to flush out armed fighters.

The army says it has killed at least 3,400 “terrorists” and destroyed 837 hideouts since the campaign began last June.

The head of the army’s media wing, Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa, in a series of tweets dubbed the military operation a success, adding military courts were functioning appropriately in handling terrorism-related cases.

Analysts agree that there has been a marked drop in attacks in the country of 180 million.

Pakistan executions raise concerns

“The military operations in Pakistan’s tribal area North Waziristan had become necessary,” Hussian said. 

“The region had become a centre of militant activity and a safe haven for terrorists. It had become sort of an autonomous area controlled by the Taliban.” 

He said after the military operation was launched in North Waziristan, violence dropped by about 40 percent across Pakistan. 

Analysts and activists have urged the Pakistani government to apply a multi-pronged approach to neutralise security threats.

“Terrorism cannot be eliminated completely by military action. Terrorist networks across Pakistan also need to be disrupted. It needs better policing and intelligence,” Hussian said.

“The government needs to act at the source of extremism – some of which originates at madrassas that need to be regulated. And it is part of the National Action Plan agreed on in the wake of the school massacre.”

Source: Al Jazeera