The Sindh law and prisons minister, Ayaz Soomro, announced that there will be no execution of death penalties in the province’s prisons at least until the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government completes its term in March, 2013.
The minister made this categorical statement on Wednesday at a press conference in the DIG Prisons office.
A de facto moratorium on capital punishment has been in place since 2008 when the PPP assumed power. However, Soomro’s statement came as a reassurance for the concerns voiced during a recent European Union (EU) delegation visit which expected legal cover against the death penalty.
Pakistan has been struggling to win the Generalised System of Preferences Plus status, known as GSP Plus, from the EU which allows developing countries to export duty-free goods to members of the EU from 2014.
Jean Lambert, during his visit to Islamabad last week with the EU delegation, made it clear that the GSP Plus was also a human rights instrument in addition to trade.
Soomro said that President Asif Ali Zardari had sought recommendations from all the departments of law on the issue of death penalty. “We [Sindh province] suggested that the death penalty should be converted into life imprisonment.”
According to him, hundreds of death row inmates await appeals against their conviction which have been pending hearing in the higher courts. In his oblique criticism of the judiciary, Soomro advised the judges to not only take up the high-profile political cases but also pay attention to those cases which deal with prisoners who have been languishing in jail without conviction.
Central Jail riots
The minister condemned the July 13 violence, during which an under-trial prisoner was killed and dozens were injured. But he stuck to the version of the jail police who hold the inmates responsible. “I endorse the assertion of DIG Jails [Gulzar Channa] that the prisoners had attempted a jailbreak otherwise why would they try to break the walls with hammers, shovels and other tools.”
Nevertheless, as a tacit acknowledgement of the wardens’ role in triggering the riots, Soomro said that an inquiry of the head constables and Chakkar Amaldar was being carried out. “They will face disciplinary action if they are found guilty.”
The truth behind the violent incident remains elusive as both the sides, prisoners and police, blame each other. Rumours surfaced that a fight broke out when a contractor refused to pay wage to a prisoner who was doing construction work.
There were also accusations that the situation boiled up when the prisoner Sajid Khaskheli was killed.
A judicial inquiry into the jail incident, ordered by the Sindh High Court, was concluded but findings have not been made public so far.
According to Soomro, the coalition partners have agreed on a system under which metropolitan corporations, headed by the mayors and deputy mayors, will function in Sindh.
They will be based in the four divisions - Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Larkana. “We [PPP] are still hearing out the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s point of view and they are listening to ours.” He reiterated his criticism over the 2001 LG system, attributing it to a “military dictator who spent billions of rupees to invent failed system of governance”.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2012.