Pakistan court halts militants’ executions

Lawyer says his client was not provided full details of planned hanging

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A Pakistani provincial high court on Monday temporarily halted the hangings of five militants who were sentenced to death for their involvement in an attack on an army camp in 2012.

Judge Arshad Mahmood Tabassum of the Lahore high court issued a temporary order stopping the executions of the five men after a lawyer for one of the militants argued that his client had not been provided full information on the planned execution.

But the decision served as a reminder of the complications faced by Nawaz Sharif’s government in carrying out speedy executions of hardcore militants. A moratorium on carrying out the death sentence was lifted following a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar last week, in which 132 children were killed.

Since Friday, six men have been executed in Pakistan including five who were sentenced in connection with a 2003 failed assassination attempt on Pakistan’s former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

Human rights groups and activists have opposed the executions, arguing they are a knee-jerk reaction. The groups claim lifting the moratorium is aimed at seeking revenge for the school attack rather than a well thought-out response to the country’s complex security challenges.

A senior western diplomat, who has closely followed the aftermath of last week’s school attack, said Monday’s court order highlights the difficulty faced by Mr Sharif in his quest to be seen as delivering swift justice.

“He [Sharif] wants to move fast getting tough with the militants. But he must also understand it’s not easy in a country where a number of groups are anxious to protect personal and human rights,” he said.

Analysts said the development should be seen within the context of Pakistan’s return to democracy in 2008 after General Musharraf stepped down following nine years of military rule. While the Pakistan army remains a powerful force, the country has also seen the emergence of a robust civil society and pro-democracy groups, which includes lawyers and judges.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political commentator, said: “Pakistan in part is an unmanageable state with plenty of challenges. But then there are also streaks of democracy and civilian rule.”

Although many pro-democracy activists have celebrated the return of civilian rule, Mr Rizvi said diverse voices in Pakistan also presented a challenge. “As a country you are not pulling in one clear direction. Right now, you need clarity to deal with militancy.”

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