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Pakistan: Prison Rule Requires Condemned to Be Able to Stand on the Scaffold

(Oct. 9, 2015) The Magistrate in Faisalabad, Pakistan, stopped the execution of Abdul Basit over uncertainty on how to hang a person who is incapable of standing up, as required by the Pakistan Prisons Rules of 1978. (Jon Boone, Paraplegic Death Row Prisoner Gets Last-Minute Stay of Execution in Pakistan, GUARDIAN (Sept. 22, 2015).)

Abdul Basit was convicted in a murder case and was sentenced to death under section 302(b) of the Pakistan Penal Code on May 19, 2009. (Re: Mercy Petition for Abdul Basit s/o Allah Ditta, Condemned Prisoner Currently Held in Central Jail Faisalabad, Through Mst. Nurat Parveen, Mother of Condemned Prisoner [Mercy Petition], REPRIEVE.ORG (July 2015).)

Relevant Criminal Law

Under section 302(b) of the Pakistan Penal Code, anyone who is convicted of murder will be punished with death or imprisonment for life. (Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860), § 302(b), Ministry of Law Justice and Human Rights, Government of Pakistan.)

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan notes that the Code includes 27 offenses for which a convicted felon may receive the death penalty in the country. (Death Penalty Offences, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan website (last visited Sept. 30, 2015).) President Mr. Asif Ali Zardari issued an indefinite moratorium on execution of death sentences for prisoners on death row on September 9, 2008, and lifted the moratorium on March 10, 2015. (Pakistan: Executions Cross 200, SCOOP (Sept. 11, 2015).)

However, death penalty was reintroduced for terrorism-related cases in December 2014, after the Peshawar school attacks that killed over 150 people. (Sabrina Toppa, Pakistan Reinstates the Death Penalty After Seven-Year Moratorium: More Than 8,000 People Sit on Death Row in the South Asian Nation, TIME (Mar. 11, 2015).)

Developments in the Case

Basit spent 18 months in jail, during which time he contracted tubercular meningitis that paralyzed him from the waist down. (Abdul Basit – Detailed Briefing: Paraplegic Man Scheduled for Execution in Faisalabad, TERROR ON DEATH ROW (last visited, Sept. 30, 2015).) Based on his health condition, his legal team, the Justice Project Pakistan, a legal aid group, filed appeals to both the High Court of Lahore and the Supreme Court, but the appeals were both dismissed in 2012. The appeals were followed by a failed Mercy Petition for executive clemency submitted under the Pakistan Prisons Rules of 1978, based on Abdul Basit’s state of health. (Mercy Petition, supra.)

Basit was scheduled to be hung on September 22, 2015, but the judicial magistrate issued a stay, based on the view that the execution could not be carried out without violating the Pakistan Prisons Rules of 1978. (Jon Boone, Paraplegic Death Row Prisoner Gets Last-Minute Stay of Execution in Pakistan, GUARDIAN (Sept. 22, 2015); Pakistan Prison Rules, 1978, PUNJAB PRISONS (a Pakistani government website).)

Rule 356 (i) describes the position of the rope to be used in a hanging in reference to the location of the prisoner “as he stands on the scaffold.” (Pakistan Prison Rules, 1978.) Basit was unable to walk or stand on the scaffold as required by the Rule. The Provincial Government of Punjab now must decide how to proceed with the execution order. (Execution of Paraplegic Pakistani Stayed by Punjab Authorities, REPRIEVE.ORG (Sept. 22, 2015).)