A judge at the Lahore High Court has ruled that a disabled death-row inmate can be hanged, in a judgment that suggests that Pakistan’s international obligations “should be kept aside.”
In his ruling, handed last week to lawyers for Abdul Basit, 43, the judge dismissed the fact that there are no provisions in Pakistan’s Prison Rules for the hanging of wheelchair users. It says that “as there is no rule declaring the hanging of a disabled person as illegal”, the authorities should be allowed to execute Basit, and use their “discretion” to determine how to carry it out. Basit’s lawyers had argued that his hanging would amount to cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited under Pakistani and international law. Basit is paralyzed from the waist down, and the relevant authorities have so far been unable to explain how they will practically carry out the execution.
The judge also states that “international laws should be kept aside” when considering whether prisoners on Pakistan’s 8,500-strong death row should be executed. If this assertion is accepted, Pakistan would be in breach of its commitment to several tenets of international law, such as the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Several UN experts have recently condemned Pakistan’s current spate of executions – which has seen over 220 people killed since December – as a breach of international standards.
The ruling also contains a significant technical error, incorrectly asserting that Basit’s lawyers at Pakistani NGO Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) had failed to challenge the dismissal of an earlier mercy petition for Basit. In fact, Basit’s lawyers filed a mercy petition on 22nd July, on which to date, no decision has been made by the government.
Pakistan’s Prison Rules provide that ill-health provides valid grounds for the commutation of sentences. Jail medical records for Basit outline how he is “bed-bound” and has “almost no chance of recovery”, but it appears that the government has not considered the records as grounds to grant mercy.
Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at human rights organization Reprieve, said: “This ruling gives an absurdly technical response to a question of fundamental rights and common decency. It’s very clear that Abdul Basit’s execution will amount to a grisly spectacle, and will have little to do with justice. It is outrageous to suggest that Pakistan should simply ignore its international obligations in order to carry out yet more hangings. The international community must now step in and urge a halt to all executions, including that of Basit, and ensure that Pakistan complies with the treaties it has signed up to.”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.