Yesterday was World Day against the Death Penalty. More than 20 human rights activists demonstrated peacefully in front of the Lahore Press Club against dismal prison conditions and executions of people who committed their crime when they were under age.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Almost two years after the Islamabad government reactivated the death penalty for crimes related to terrorism, followed later for other capital crimes, executions by hanging have reached 425.
More than 20 Pakistani activists held a peaceful protest yesterday, World Day Against the Death Penalty, in front of the Lahore Press Club to denounce the executions, which have earned Pakistan third place, after China and Iran, among countries that enforce the death penalty.
The decision by the Pakistani government to end a moratorium on the death penalty came after a Taliban attack against a military school in Peshawar that left almost 150 students and teachers dead.
Although ordinary Pakistanis are divided over the issue, activists are not.
“Executions diminish any chance to prove the innocence of convicts; correction should come first before extreme punishment,” HRCP secretary general I A Rehman told AsiaNews. “Those hanged include the mentally challenged as well as people who were children at the time of the offence. Islam teaches mercy”.
Activists point out that during their investigation in 2013 and 2014, they found that prisons lacked proper facilities for prisoners, especially those on death row.
“The biggest problem in death cells is lack of space,” Rehman explained. “A room of 10 x 12 feet (3 by 4 metres) is meant for one person but is usually overcrowded with eight or nine people. There is no boundary for toilet and they use bed sheets to cover the area around a single water tap where they bath as well as wash utensils. They are not treated as humans”.
Father Abid Habib, a former president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan, also wants to see prison reform. For seven years, he visited jails in Lahore and Karachi archdioceses.
“It is very difficult to conduct prayers with prisoners,” he explained. “Especially those condemned were not allowed group prayer sessions and I had to conduct separate Masses in each cell”.
Prisoners also “complained about the food, and the brick coloured prison outfit. It never corrodes, no matter how many times you wash it, and causes severe itching”.