Rights groups say ending moratorium on death penalty is ‘politicized reaction’ to Peshawar massacre.
Rights groups on Saturday condemned Pakistan’s decision to hang two convicted militants in its first executions for six years, as leaders vowed decisive action in the wake of a Taliban school massacre that left 149 people dead.
The bloody rampage in Peshawar on Tuesday sparked international outrage, with many in Pakistan describing it as their own “mini 9/11” and a game changer in the country’s fight against terror. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif relinquished the six-year ban on the death penalty in terror-related cases two days after the school attack, with two militants convicted of separate terrorism offences the first to face the noose.
The Human Rights Watch termed the executions “a craven politicized reaction to the Peshawar killings,” demanding that the executions be stopped immediately. “Pakistan’s government has chosen to indulge in vengeful bloodlust instead of finding and prosecuting those responsible for the horrific Peshawar attack,” the group said in a statement Saturday.
The two militants hanged Friday in Punjab province were Aqeel, who was convicted for an attack on the Army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009, and Arshad Mehmood who was convicted for his involvement in a 2003 assassination attempt on Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Officials have said there would be up to 10 more executions in the coming days.
Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, with more than 500 of them convicted on terror-related charges, according to the government. “This is a cynical reaction from the government. It masks a failure to deal with the core issue highlighted by the Peshawar attack, namely the lack of effective protection for civilians in northwest Pakistan,” Amnesty said about Friday’s executions.
The United Nations called for Pakistan to reconsider executing terror suspects, saying that “the death penalty has no measurable deterrent effect on levels of insurgent and terrorist violence” and “may even be counter-productive.”
“We urge the Government not to succumb to wide-spread calls for revenge,” said U.N. Human Rights Office spokesperson Rupert Colville.
The military has also intensified its operations against militants in the country’s lawless tribal areas. Seven militants were killed Saturday morning in two separate incidents as security forces hit their hideouts. A U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan also hit a militant compound killing five militants early Saturday.
The Army has been waging a major offensive against longstanding Taliban and other militant strongholds in the tribal areas for the last six months. But a series of fresh strikes after the Peshawar attack suggest the military is stepping up its campaign.
As the Peshawar tragedy unfolded, Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif said the attack had renewed the forces’ determination to push for the militants’ “final elimination.” The atrocity was already the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan’s troubled history, surpassing the 139 killed in bomb blasts targeting former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
But the head of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad slammed the Army operation in North Waziristan as “un-Islamic” and said the TTP slaughter in Peshawar was understandable. “O rulers, O people in power, if you will commit such acts, there will be a reaction,” Maulana Abdul Aziz told worshippers in his Friday sermon.
Around 250 people protested outside the Lal Masjid on Friday evening, denouncing hardliners like Abdul Aziz as Taliban sympathizers. Later, the Islamabad police registered a case against the cleric for threatening the protesters after they staged a sit-in protest outside a local police station demanding a case against the cleric.