Mohammad Hussain, a soldier who was condemned to death by courtmartial in 2008 , was hanged on Thursday at Mianwali jail in Punjab province after all appeals for mercy had been exhausted.
“This decision constitutes a step backwards in Pakistan’s move towards greater respect for human rights,” a spokesman for the French foreign ministry Philippe Lalliot told reporters, according to Agence-France Presse.
However, unlike neighboring Iran – which executes untold thousands of people every year, even children – capital punishment is rarely applied in Pakistan.
Indeed, the last hanging in Pakistan occurred in four years ago. Under the current civilian rule of President Asif Ali Zardari – who regularly commutes death sentences to life imprisonment – an “unofficial moratorium” already exists.
Moreover, the execution of Hussain was carried out by a military court, where civilian jurists have no influence. Zardari, who already has poor relations with the military, likely did not want to intervene in the case.
According to Pakistani human rights activists, at least 8,000 prisoners are currently languishing on death row – one of the largest such populations in the world. Last year alone, 313 Pakistanis were sentenced to death, cited Amnesty International.
It is unclear if the government will move to abolish the death penalty or not.
Zohra Yusuf, the chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told BBC: "Only recently the president asked the government to work on a draft law to abolish the death penalty. I hope this [execution] does not have implications for other cases. But I am worried. And I am worried about what happens after March when this government finishes its term."
There appears to be significant support for capital punishment in Pakistan, a country wracked by endemic violence.
In a letter to the edtor of Pakistan's Nation newspaper, Rafi Nasim of Lahore wrote: “One wonders why Amnesty International is more sympathetic to the criminals than the grief stricken families whose dear ones are killed by them.. the crime rate in Pakistan reached [a high] during the last five years [of Zardari's rule]... All these murders are taking place because the killers know that ‘they will not be punished’. In view of this situation prevailing in the country even the mere thought of abolishing death sentence would be a sin.”