Court stays execution of murder convict

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A court on Tuesday postponed for almost a month the hanging of a murderer in what would have been the country’s first civilian execution for six years, lawyers said.

Shoaib Sarwar, who was convicted in 1998, was set to be hanged in Rawalpindi’s Adiyala jail on Thursday following orders issued by another court last week, despite outrage among rights groups.

Pakistan has had a de facto moratorium on civilian hangings since 2008.

Only one person has been executed since then, a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.

“We are relieved to have managed to avert this impending injustice through a stay order,” said Maryam Haq, a lawyer from the non-profit group Justice Project Pakistan.

Prosecution branch officials confirmed the staying of the execution until October 13.

Haq said her organisation had argued that the execution should be stayed on the basis that Sarwar had been in prison for over 18 years, longer than a life sentence, therefore execution would mean he was being punished twice for the same crime.

They also argued that since Sarwar was a complainant in a petition for the abolition of the death penalty currently being heard by the Supreme Court, that case should be decided upon first.

“Shoaib’s execution would be an unimaginable violation of his constitutional rights and we will continue to fight until this black warrant has been dismissed,” she said.

Amnesty International had also called upon Pakistan on Monday to stop the execution, impose a moratorium on the death penalty and eventually abolish it.

“Pakistan should immediately scrap apparent plans to carry out the first civilian execution in almost six years and instead impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as a first step towards abolition,” the group said in a statement.

Sarwar is currently being held in a jail in Haripur.

In June last year the newly elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif scrapped the moratorium in a bid to crack down on criminals and militants.

But two weeks later it announced a further stay of executions after an outcry from rights groups and from then-president Asif Ali Zardari.

All execution orders in Pakistan must be signed by the president.

European Union officials indicated last year that if Pakistan resumed executions, it could jeopardise a highly prized trade deal with the bloc.

Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.