LAHORE, Pakistan, Sept. 4 -- Both human rights groups and the Pakistani Taliban have lined up against the Pakistani government's intention to reinstate the death penalty.
The new government, led by Nawaz Sharif, said in June it intends to reinstate the death penalty, ending a moratorium dating to 2008. In July, however, Islamabad said it would postpone its decision to lift the ban and temporarily commuted the death sentences of those convicted by regular courts and the anti-terrorist courts to life in prison.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an alliance of militant groups, threatened in an Aug. 13 letter to news organizations there would be severe consequences for the government if it executed the group's death row activists. In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by UPI Next, the group warned it would consider the hanging of its members "an act of war."
“The Sharif government would have to pay a heavy price for the execution of TTP prisoners,” TTP spokesman Asmatullah Muavia said in a statement.
Muhammad Aqeel, also known as Dr. Usman, the convicted mastermind behind an October 2009 attack on the Pakistani army's general headquarters, was to have been executed Aug. 23 and is among the inmates awaiting execution in Pakistani jails.
"We are not afraid of terrorists," Pervez Rasheed, federal information minister, told UPI Next after the Urdu-language statement was distributed.
Rasheed said the government is considering separating the cases of those convicted under anti-terrorism laws and Islamic laws from those convicted under ordinary laws.
"A decision is expected soon," he added. "Until then, we have temporarily taken back our decision to lift [the] moratorium."
Pakistani and international human rights advocates praised the moratorium. Human Rights Watch says that, with more than 8,000 condemned prisoners, Pakistan has one of the largest death row populations in the world. The European Union in August warned a return to capital punishment could jeopardize some trade agreements.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has urged an extension of the informal moratorium on executions. The International Commission of Jurists and Human Rights Watch have also urged the government to continue the moratorium with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
The debate on the abolition of the death penalty started in early 2000 when then-President Pervez Musharraf expressed his desire to safeguard human rights in the country. Military courts are exempted from the directive and in November court-martialed and executed a soldier convicted of murder.
Interior Ministry spokesman Umer Hameed told reporters in August the government was facing international pressure after it decided to resume executions. He said there are about 450 prisoners awaiting execution -- not the 8,000 claimed. The Pakistan Penal Code lists 27 offenses subject to capital punishment, including murder, terrorism, blasphemy, arms smuggling, drug trafficking and rape.
I.A. Rehman, secretary-general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, disputed the government claim that capital punishment is a criminal deterrence.
"We need to make a clear and comprehensive policy on it," Rehman told UPI Next. “If we want to separate terrorists from this moratorium, that should also be discussed [in] proper forums. We need to focus on serious shortcomings of due process and fair trial in the criminal justice system."
Former Lahore High Court judge Zahid Hussain Bukhari, who also served as the chief prosecutor of the Punjab government, said countries should make their own laws compatible with their own cultures.
"We have the death sentence in different laws according to the nature of crime in our society, which is incomparable with the West," Bukhari told UPI Next.
"Our religion, Islam, also allows [the] death sentence for different crimes."
He also noted the government should not submit to European "propaganda."