The execution of paraplegic death row convict Abdul Basit was postponed following appeals by human rights groups, officials said Tuesday.
The man’s family welcomed the development with relief and urged the government to spare his life on medical grounds.
Basit, 43, who was convicted of murder in 2009, has always maintained his innocence. Basit contracted tubercular meningitis in 2010 while in prison which left him paralysed from the waist down, according to rights groups and jail officials.
Basit was due to be hanged on Tuesday, but a court delayed the execution after Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), the human rights law firm handling his case, raised concerns about how the wheelchair-bound man would mount the scaffold.
According to prison official Mohammad Safdar, a magistrate made the decision to postpone the death sentence after talking to Basit. The hanging was initially scheduled for just before dawn.
“The hanging has been postponed. A magistrate in the morning ordered the postponement because Abdul Basit is a disabled man,” Usman, another official at Faisalabad jail ─ where Basit is being held, told AFP.
There were no further details on the postponement and it was unclear if another date for the executions was set. Under Pakistani law, authorities can delay executions on medical grounds but a convict can only be pardoned by the president. There was no immediate statement from President Mamnoon Hussain.
Basit’s family members were waiting outside the Faisalabad prison for the sentence to be carried out so they could take the body for burial.
His sister, Shugufta Sultana, said they were “terrified and nervous”.
“We were waiting for bad news but God gave a new life to my brother and his execution was postponed,” she told The Associated Press over the phone from Faisalabad.
According to JPP, prison guidelines require that a prisoner stands on the gallows and the rope’s length is determined by his standing height. They said in a statement last week that attempting a hang a wheelchair-bound convict may not work.
Basit’s mother Nusrat Perveen also confirmed the execution delay, telling AFP that a jail official had called her to inform her “the hanging has been postponed because of Basit’s sickness”.
Pakistan has hanged more than 200 convicts since the federal government lifted the moratorium on the death penalty on Dec 17, 2014 in terrorism related cases only in the wake of a Taliban attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar which claimed at least 150 lives ─ most of them children.
Later, the government completely reinstated capital punishment for all offences that entail the death penalty.
Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.
Supporters argue that the death penalty is the only effective way to deal with the scourge of militancy in the country. But critics say the legal system is unjust, with rampant police torture, poor representation for victims and unfair trials.