KARACHI, Pakistan, July 25 (UPI Next) --
The fate of thousands of prisoners on death row in Pakistan is likely to be resolved July 30 with the election of the country's next president, who is not likely to reinstate a moratorium on capital punishment.
That moratorium, imposed in 2008 by former Pakistan Peoples Party President Asif Ali Zardari, expired June 30. His successor is widely expected to be from the ruling Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz Party. The president has the power to exercise the death penalty under the Pakistani Constitution.
Crimes punishable by death include murder, blasphemy, acts of terrorism, sabotage of sensitive installations, spreading hate against the armed forces and sedition.
Federal Minister of State Hakeem Baloch, defended his government's policy of not renewing the moratorium on death penalty because "the ratio of crime in the country has increased since the moratorium was imposed."
"The government has not renewed moratorium," he told UPI Next. "In future we'll restore the law awarding death penalty because we can't end crimes without deterrence. Pakistan is facing terrorism. There is lawlessness in some parts of the country. So it is necessary the country restores death penalty."
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's "State of Human Rights in 2011" reported more than 8,300 prisoners awaiting execution. The organization called the group "probably the largest death-row population in the world."
Hands Off Cain, a Rome-based organization opposed to the death penalty, has said 134 Pakistanis were sent to gallows and 309 sentenced to death in 2007. In 2008, the year the moratorium was put into place, 36 people were executed and 159 were sentenced to death. Only one Pakistani has been put to death since 2008, a soldier convicted of murder under military law.
Pakistan's new government, headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said during this year's campaigning that it would allow the moratorium to expire at the end of June. The decision was criticized by political parties and international rights organizations.
The rights groups said the plan to reinstate capital punishment violates Pakistan's international obligations.
Pakistan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, some clauses of which "make it mandatory for the government to end the death penalty," Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairwoman Zohra Yusuf told UPI Next.
"Besides, there is growing support in the international community for abolition of the death penalty. More and more countries are ending executions and Pakistan should not reverse the decision on suspending capital punishment," she added.
"There is also," Yusuf said, "pressure from the European Union, which opposes the death penalty and may link abolition to financial agreements."
Pakistan voted last year against a largely symbolic U.N. resolution seeking a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
The Interior Ministry said July 1 there would be no moratorium or general amnesty. Instead the government would decide the fate of prisoners on death row case by case.
About 450 convicts are awaiting execution, according to the ministry. Hands Off Cain estimates 7,046 prisoners are on Pakistan's death row
Yusuf told UPI Next that evidence indicates that capital punishment is not a deterrent.
"European countries which have abolished the death penalty have little crime. In the U.S., Texas, which executes the highest number of convicts, has the highest crime rate. In Pakistan, public hangings and floggings during General Zia's regime did not act as a deterrent, We believe the certainty of punishment, rather than its severity, is a more effective deterrent."
Mustafa Lakho, a leading campaigner against the death penalty, told UPI Next that the country's legal community is split on capital punishment.
"We are preparing a petition to submit in the Supreme Court to seek a ruling against the capital punishment because there is need for a consensus among the judiciary first," he said. "Similarly we are working with legislators to amend the laws because at present our laws require death penalty in some offenses like murder."
"Pakistan is a Muslim country and Islamic jurisprudence also requires death penalty in murder cases," Lakho added, "but our plea is that such a harsh punishment should be abolished on the humanitarian grounds."
According to Hands Off Cain, 98 countries have stopped using the death penalty through moratorium, law or refusal to sentence criminals to execution. Forty-eight countries, including Pakistan, China, Iran, and the United States continue to use capital punishment.