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World Full return of death penalty in Pakistan concerns rights groups

This photograph taken on March 12, 2015 shows the Pakistani Kashmir parents of convicted killer Shafqat Hussain, displaying a photograph of their son, in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. The family of a man condemned to death as a teenager made an emotional appeal for mercy March 13, saying a court order for his execution next week had "shattered their hopes".

SAJJAD QAYYUM/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan is at the centre of an international debate over its decision to reinstate the death penalty and widen its application beyond those convicted of terrorism.

The trend worries human-rights groups that say non-terror-related cases are being fast-tracked in a country that has a weak judicial system and one of the highest number of death-row inmates in the world, estimated to be more than 8,000 – or 10 per cent of the total prison population – according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

On Tuesday, Pakistan executed 12 death-row inmates, the most single-day hangings since the country partially restored the death penalty in the wake of a high-profile attack by militants on a school last December. Most of those executed were convicted of murders during robberies and family disputes, according to the Dawn News website.

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On Thursday, Pakistan is to carry out a controversial death sentence of a man whose lawyers say he was 14 at the time of his arrest 10 years ago for the kidnap and killing of a child. They argue that Pakistan's laws prohibit the death sentence for juveniles and that Shafqat Hussain's confession to the killing happened after nine days of police torture.

"Shafqat Hussain has now spent 11 years on death row on charges that have nothing to do with terrorism. He was not a militant; he worked, during his brief spell of freedom in Karachi, as a caretaker at an apartment building. He impacts national security in no way," said Fatima Bhutto, a Pakistani author and niece of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday.

Pakistan's return to the death penalty started last December following the attack on an army-run school in Peshawar that left more than 150 dead, most of them school-age children. The massacre sparked national outrage and resulted in the government partially reintroducing the death penalty, overturning a complete ban in place since 2008.

Under new rules, those already convicted of terror-related offences would see their death sentences carried out. A constitutional amendment in January removed the right to a civilian trial for terror suspects and instead empowers military-run courts to carry out speedy trials.

Earlier this month, the partial reinstating of the death penalty was extended to all death-penalty offences.

"This shameful retreat to the gallows is no way to resolve Pakistan's pressing security and law-and-order problems," Amnesty International's Rupert Abbott said. "The use of the death penalty is always abhorrent, but it raises additional concerns in a country like Pakistan where trials are routinely unfair."

With a report from Stephanie Chambers

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