ISLAMABAD - Thousands of prisoners on death row are facing possible executions following the freshly revived policy of the incumbent government to implement capital punishments in the wake of rapidly deteriorating law and order situation coupled with terrorist attacks that have shaken different parts of the country, The Nation has learnt.

Federal Ministry of Interior is nowadays busy in evolving a new policy regarding execution of all death sentences lying pending since late 2008 with the aim that all death row prisoners, except those whose mercy petitions needed to be considered on solid reasons, should go to gallows.

The policy is contrary to the previous PPP-led federal government that wanted to convert all capital punishments into life imprisonments and desired to make a new legislation through the Parliament. However, any such bill could never be introduced in the Parliament apparently because of the opposition from certain political parties and other segments of the society.

According to a recent statement issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), there are at least 8,000 death row prisoners languishing in different jails of the country since 2008 when a moratorium was issued by the President Asif Ali Zardari on the execution of sentences of all such prisoners.

This presidential order expired two days ago, on June 30 and no extension had been granted in this period till date. HRCP through a statement has called upon the president and the prime minister to extend this informal moratorium. HRCP is of the view that the death penalty had not improved the law and order situation in the country. It says that research in several countries support its argument.

“The new federal government, in contrast to the previous government, has the policy that all death row prisoners should be executed except those whose mercy petitions had reasons to be considered,” said Umer Hamid Khan, senior joint secretary and spokesperson of the Ministry Of Interior.

“We are finalising the policy and will write to all the concerned quarters in this connection,” he asserted. He also informed The Nation that the ministry was reviewing all cases of mercy petitions of death row prisoners for their early disposals. He also said Constitution under Article-45 had given powers to the President to give remissions in the sentences but under the prescribed pattern there must be valid reason for such pardons.

Presidential spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar said President would take any step in the light of the constitutional provisions if he received any such communication from the federal government. He, at the same time, said it would be difficult for the president to go against government’s policy. He reminded that President had stayed the execution of all death sentences in light of the statement issued by the then prime minister on the floor of the National Assembly. He informed that President had neither pardoned not converted any death sentence into life imprisonment and the sentences were suspended for a specific time period.

Article-45 of the Constitution reads: “The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority”.

A senior official of the Punjab Home Department dealing with the cases of capital punishments seeking anonymity said President had the powers to remit sentences and he did not need any discussions with the federal government. Under the procedure, any prison department of the province concerned sends the mercy petition of any death row prisoner through the home department to interior secretary who, in turn, sends it to the President for further consideration.

According to the official, there are two kinds of death row prisoners, one whose mercy petitions had been rejected and extension in the moratorium was needed to stay their sentences and the others whose mercy petitions were pending with the President.

No stay order is needed for the second kind of prisoners. However, the federal interior ministry is keen to seek early disposal of the petitions by the Presidency. President has the powers to delay the mercy petitions for unspecified time period.