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Paraplegic death row prisoner gets last-minute stay of execution in Pakistan
22-09-2015

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 unsupported.

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 or decapitation.

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 unusual punishment.

 “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.