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World News
Some Pakistani Executions Halted
From the Wall Street Journal of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 07:59:39 EST
Pakistani courts stayed the executions of at least seven convicted militants Monday. Shown, security officials at a prison in Karachi on Dec. 22.
Pakistani courts stayed the executions of at least seven convicted militants Monday. Shown, security officials at a prison in Karachi on Dec. 22. European Pressphoto Agency

ISLAMABAD--Pakistani courts stayed the executions of at least seven convicted militants Monday, creating an obstacle for the government’s plans to execute dozens of convicted terrorists in the wake of last week’s massacre of school children.

Pakistan’s government lifted its moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism cases after Taliban gunmen killed more than 130 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar on Dec. 16. Since then, at least six convicts have been executed.

A senior government official said there were 500 cases under review, based on clemency appeals filed by people sentenced to death for various crimes, including terrorism. Of the 500 appeals filed, 62 relate to terrorism.

“Of the cases we are reviewing, there are 62 for which there is strong, ample evidence and casework proving that they were involved in hardcore terrorism and acts against the state,” the official said. “For even these cases, there will be a thorough review before action is taken.“

Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Sunday that a number of arrests of suspects in the Peshawar case had been made across the country, including “facilitators” of the attackers.

“The entire nation needs to realize that we are in a state of war,” Mr. Khan said. “This isn't a routine war, this isn't a war fought on borders. Your enemies are inside your country, they have sympathizers, they have protectors.”

Human-rights groups have raised concerns about the rush to execute after the death penalty was suspended for seven years, warning that Pakistan’s flawed legal system meant that many innocent people had been handed the death sentence. Special antiterrorism laws are often used in non-terrorism cases as prosecution is speedier, lawyers said.

According to a report this month by the Justice Project Pakistan and British campaigning group Reprieve, there are 818 people on death row in Pakistan who were tried as terrorists.

“In many cases—as many as 88%—there was no link to anything reasonably defined as ‘terrorism’,” the report said.

Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry, the government’s special prosecutor in several high-profile terrorism trials, said that in cases where an appeal is pending in the Supreme Court executions can be stayed by courts. He said, however, that in cases in which death sentences were handed down years ago, “there can be no excuses for lodging an appeal now.”

Judges and prosecutors are often threatened and intimidated in terrorism cases. Mr. Chaudhry’s predecessor was assassinated by militants last year.

“If we didn’t have faith in God, we would all run away from this work,” said Mr. Chaudhry.

On Monday, at least seven planned executions were put on hold by separate courts, in the northern city of Rawalpindi and the southern port of Karachi, on technical grounds.

In the case in Rawalpindi, the five men were convicted of their involvement in an attack on a military camp in Gujrat district, central Pakistan, in 2012, in which seven security personnel were killed. The court granted a stay after their lawyer argued that they were denied due process, officials said.

In Karachi, the Sindh High Court stayed the executions of two convicted members of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi sectarian group who were sentenced in 2002 for the murder of a Shiite doctor. There were technical problems with the issuance of the death warrants in their case, officials at the provincial prosecutor’s office said, adding that they would resubmit the warrants in the coming days.

Pakistan has one of the largest death-row populations in the world with more than 8,000 prisoners, according to human-rights groups, including people convicted under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.

—--Syed Shoaib Hasan in Karachi contributed to this article.

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com



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