On Tuesday, government officials confirmed that the interior ministry had instructed provincial governments to proceed with executions according to law.
“The Pakistani government’s ill-conceived decision to completely abandon its death penalty moratorium puts thousands of lives at risk,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Government approval of a potential nationwide execution spree is a knee-jerk reaction to a terrible crime rather than a considered response to legitimate security concerns.”
Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, one of the world’s largest populations of prisoners facing execution.
Pakistani law mandates capital punishment for 28 offenses including murder, rape, treason and blasphemy.
Those on death row are often from the most marginalized sections of society — like Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court on charges of blasphemy.
The government’s action follows Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s December 17 decision to rescind a four-year unofficial moratorium on capital punishment for non-military personnel “in terrorism related cases”.
This was in response to the December 16 attack by the Pakistani Taliban splinter group Tehreek-e-Taliban on a school in Peshawar that left at least 148 dead – almost all of them children.
Sharif’s decision has led to more than 20 executions of people convicted of terrorism-related charges.
“Pakistan’s government should demonstrate wise leadership by recognizing the well-documented failure of the death penalty as a crime deterrent and joining the growing number of countries that have abolished capital punishment,” Kine said.
“The government should treat the death penalty for what it is: a cruel and irrevocable punishment rather than a policy solution to complex crime and security problems.”