ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari would not reject any mercy petitions of criminals facing the death penalty as long as he is in office, a close presidential aide said Monday.
Presidential spokesman Senator Farhatullah Khan Babar confirmed that President Zardari would prolong the matter until he retires on September 8, 2013.
In Pakistan, all executions must be approved by the president.
A presidential order issued in 2008 had imposed a moratorium on the death penalty. The Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) government decided to end the moratorium after the presidential order expired on 30 June.
“The government has given clear instructions to see all such (death penalty) cases on a case-by-case basis and there will be no general amnesty for the convicts waiting for execution,” an interior ministry spokesman Umer Hameed had said.
During the five-year tenure of the People’s Party, not a single civilian was hanged. Authorities executed only one soldier, in 2008, convicted by court martial.
Human rights groups have expressed their strong reservation on the policy shift being implemented by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Given the circumstances it may not be that difficult for President Zardari to avoid the government’s pressure to issue final orders to execute the criminals.
During the holy month of Ramazan, the capital punishment is not awarded as a matter of policy and in accordance with Islamic injunctions. Once the holy month is over, President Zardari would have less than a month to conclude his five-year tenure.
“President can easily delay the signing on any summary to be forwarded by the federal government to execute the criminals facing death sentence,” Senator Babar pointed out.
The presidential aide explained it was not binding on the president to immediately sign anything referred to him by the federal government. “He can take his time. And I think it will not create any controversy,” he added.
The Chief Justice of Sindh High Court, Mushir Alam, recently asked the government to execute the criminals who would have their mercy petitions rejected. The chief justice observed that implementation on capital punishment was necessary to restore public confidence on the law enforcers and judiciary.
A heated debate erupted in the country after the reversal of policy on death penalty.
Several analysts appreciated the government’s move, saying criminals like Mumtaz Qadri, who killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, should face the hangman’s noose. Besides, a number of convicted militants are in jails without any sign of being hanged even though they have been condemned to death by the courts.
In 2008, then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani delivered a policy statement in the National Assembly declaring his government would not execute criminals facing the death penalty.
That specific statement provided President Zardari the leeway to keep summaries of execution pending whenever he was requested by the federal government on that count.
Sources said the government of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had once sent a summary for the execution of 40 condemned criminals. But even that summary was ignored on the basis of the policy statement by PM Gilani.
Senator Babar revealed that the presidency kept on receiving requests from the provincial and federal governments to reject the mercy petitions, but the president did not reject any of them as a matter of policy.
“After September 8, the PML-N would have its own president. Then it would be at liberty to hang as many (condemned) criminals it wants,” he observed.
President Zardari may soon take up the matter with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the presidential spokesman said.
Shahzad Raza is a freelance reporter. His twitter handle is @shahz79