UK ‘aid for executions’ in spotlight as Pakistan set to restart hangings

By agency reporter
October 23, 2014

More than 100 prisoners apprehended in UK-funded drug arrests are now facing execution in Pakistan, after a judge scheduled a hanging that would end the country’s two-year death penalty moratorium.

A one-month stay of execution granted to Pakistani prisoner Shoaib Sarwar expires next Monday (27th October), leaving Mr Sarwar at imminent risk of death. The hanging, if it takes place, would be Pakistan’s first execution since 2012, and would throw into question the lives of at least 112 drug offenders currently on Pakistan’s death row – including a number of British nationals, who were sentenced to death in trials falling short of international standards.

While the UK government’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty lists Pakistan as a ‘priority country’, the UK has given more than £12 million to support anti-drug operations in Pakistan, where drug possession can carry a death sentence. UK funding has covered training for officers in Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force as well as intelligence and equipment, while ministers have failed to take steps to prevent the aid leading to death sentences. Last week, Denmark announced it would reconsider similar aid in light of the moratorium’s possible collapse.

Pakistan’s specialist drug courts maintain a conviction rate of more than 92 per cent, and can hand down a death sentence to anyone convicted of possession of more than 1kg of drugs. The Pakistani Anti-Narcotics Force lists death sentences on its website as “Prosecution Achievements.”

In correspondence with legal charity Reprieve, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has confirmed that the UK has ended counter-narcotics funding to Iran due to “the exact same concerns” as Denmark; the latter country redirected funding in 2013 after concluding donations were “leading to executions”. On Pakistan, however, Mr Clegg said the UK would continue its funding, despite being “acutely aware that this assistance must not compromise our clear opposition to the use of capital punishment in all circumstances, including for drug offences”.

Asked what Britain’s aid stance would be if Pakistan’s moratorium collapses, Mr Clegg promised that the Government would “urge the Pakistan authorities to abolish the death penalty”, but failed to address the issue of the 100+ death row prisoners whose arrests were funded by the UK.

Reprieve has asked the British Government to make its aid conditional on an end to the death penalty for drug offences – consistent with its position on similar aid to Iran – and to accept responsibility for the link between its support for drug operations and the application of the death penalty, including for British nationals.

Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team Director Maya Foa said: “Despite calling Pakistan a “priority country” in its strategy to abolish the death penalty worldwide, Britain has sent millions of pounds to help Pakistani forces arrest and sentence people to death for alleged drug offences. The people whose death sentences British aid has supported are hardly the barons or kingpins of the international drug trade – they are innocent scapegoats or vulnerable mules, often targeted by notoriously corrupt police forces eager to meet ‘quotas’. British aid for executions breaches the Government’s own human rights rules and makes a mockery of its commitment to fight capital punishment abroad.”

[Ekk/4]

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