Paraplegic death row prisoner gets last-minute stay of execution in Pakistan
Islamabad: A paraplegic
death row prisoner in Pakistan has received a last-minute stay of execution
because officials are uncertain of how to hang a man incapable of standing up
A local magistrate
stopped the early morning execution of Abdul Basit in Faisalabad central jail a
day after the country’s Supreme Court refused to halt a process described by
human rights lawyers as a “cruel and unusual punishment”.
Convicted for murder in
2009, Basit’s legs were paralysed after he contracted meningitis in prison.
Dilshad Malik, the attending magistrate, said he had no choice but to postpone
the execution of the 43-year-old.
“We have thoroughly
observed this case and reached a conclusion that there are no rules available
to guide us on execution of a paraplegic person,” he said.
The rules demand the
prisoner should be able to “reach the execution point on his own feet”, Malik
said. Campaigners have argued that hanging a man in a wheelchair runs a high
risk of the execution being botched, potentially leading to slow strangulation
Malik said the matter
would now be referred to senior government officials in Punjab province.
Basit’s sister Shagufta Sultana said the family were shocked when a prison
official told them her brother’s execution had been temporarily postponed.
“We never expected that
because we had already lost all hope,” she said. “We do not know exactly what
happened inside the jail.”
Kate Higham, Pakistan caseworker
at the anti-death penalty charity Reprieve, said: “It is welcome that the
Punjab government has apparently seen sense and stopped this hanging from going
ahead. There was a real risk that Basit could have faced horrific, prolonged
torment – violating both the prison’s own rules and Pakistan’s ban on cruel and
“The Punjab government is to be congratulated
on their humane and just decision to stay Basit’s execution.”
The high court in
Lahore accepted a petition challenging Basit’s execution in July but it was
later dismissed by the supreme court, which argued that hanging a paralysed man
was not expressly forbidden by prison rules.
There has been a spate
of executions in Pakistan since the government scrapped an unofficial
moratorium on the death penalty following the Taliban massacre of more than 130
pupils at a military school in Peshawar in December last year.
More than 200 people
have been executed since then, despite controversy surrounding many of the
cases, including that of Shafqat Hussain, who was hung in August despite claims
he was a juvenile at the time he was said to have murdered a child.