ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday ordered a temporary stay of executions following objections from the president and rights groups, days before they were due to resume after a five-year moratorium.
The new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in June scrapped the moratorium on the death penalty in a bid to crack down on criminals and Islamist militants in the violence-torn country.
But on Sunday, the government announced that executions, which had been scheduled to begin this week, would be stayed temporarily following objections from outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari.
The stay would last until Zardari returns from abroad to discuss the matter with Sharif, a statement said.
“In due deference to the wish of the president, it has been desired that all executions of death sentences may be held in abeyance till the discussion takes place,” it said.
Zardari steps down on September 8, to be replaced by businessman Mamnoon Hussain, a close Sharif ally who was elected in July.
Pakistan had intended to hang two convicted killers from banned sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi this Wednesday or Thursday in the southern town of Sukkur, in Sindh province, officials had said.
Other prisoners on death row had also expected to be executed this week.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists called on Pakistan to declare commute all existing death sentences and abolish the death penalty once and for all.
“A return to executions will derail one of democratic Pakistan’s most tangible human rights successes,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director of the International Commission of Jurists.
“Under military rule, Pakistan endured the widespread application of the death penalty. The new government should demonstrate its clear opposition to any use of this ghastly punishment.”
The rights groups cited official figures as saying that Pakistan has more than 7,000 prisoners on death row, one of the largest populations of prisoners facing execution in the world.
The Pakistani interior ministry has said up to 450 convicts are awaiting execution and that their cases will be examined.
Under Pakistan’s previous government, led by the PPP, no one except a soldier convicted by court martial was put to death since 2008.
Pakistani Taliban militants, who have been waging a domestic insurgency since 2007, have said they will consider the executions of any of its prisoners a declaration of war.
Pakistan says tens of thousands of people have been killed in the country as a result of terrorism since 2001.