Pakistan will begin executing criminals on death row whose appeals have been exhausted, an interior ministry spokesman said Tuesday, reversing an earlier announcement that only those convicted of terrorism would be executed.
“It applies to all (on death row), irrespective of the nature of the crime,” said the spokesman, who said the order was given late on Friday but not publicized.
There are more than 8,000 Pakistanis on death row. But the country had a de facto moratorium on executions in place from 2008 until December, when Taliban gunmen massacred 134 children and 19 adults in the worst militant attack in the country’s history.
Politicians say fast-track executions are vital to reigning in militant attacks in the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.
So legislators voted in sweeping powers allowing the military to try and execute civilians, arguing that the country’s civilian courts were too intimidated and inept to convict militants and murderers.
Human rights groups warned that convictions were highly unreliable and the Pakistan criminal justice system barely functioned. But the government promised only those convicted of militant attacks would be executed and regular convicts on death row would be spared.
Since then, 24 people have been executed, including two men who were not involved in a militant attack, according to legal aid group Justice Project Pakistan.
The group produced research in conjunction with U.S. university Yale Law School documenting nearly 2,000 cases of torture in the eastern Pakistani district of Faisalabad. Interviewees said police routinely manufactured evidence, tortured suspects and botched investigations.
Torture is recognized as such a widespread problem that any confession a suspect gives to a policeman is inadmissible in court.
Lawyers are often also inept or corrupt, witnesses are frequently bribed or murdered and judges are threatened, the group says.
Police say that although torture used to be common, it is rarer these days.
Many of those on death row were children when they were arrested and say they were tortured into confessing, the group said, citing the case of a man who was 14 years old when he was sentenced to death ten years ago.
“We’ve seen time and time again that there is immeasurable injustice in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, with a rampant culture of police torture, inadequate counsel and unfair trials,” Sarah Belal, the executive director of Justice Project Pakistan, said in a statement.
“Despite knowing this, the government has irresponsibly brought back capital punishment.”