ISLAMABAD - The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has recommended reinstating moratorium on death penalty with an aim of abolition, as the country remained one of the highest executioners in the world in 2016.

HRCP while releasing a report ‘State of Human Rights in 2016’ said that while the pace of execution in Pakistan slowed significantly in 2016, the country remained one of the highest executioners in the world with 87 persons executed in 2016, most in the first six months of the year. According to the report, 426 persons were awarded death penalty in 2016 while 496 in 2015. The report further said that the trials were often characterised by the lack of access to impartial legal counsel. The fate of the accused was sealed in the initial stages when they were given a state-appointed lawyer who was often poorly-trained and lacked competence, the report lamented.

According to the report, Punjab witnessed an increase in the cases of rape, gang-rape and abduction. Bank robberies, theft and snatching of motorcycles and mobile phones witnessed a sudden rise in 2016 in Karachi. Three human rights defenders were killed. Punjab police said that they killed 340 criminals in at least 291 ‘encounters.’ Sindh police said 248 robbers and other criminals, 96 terrorists and 11 kidnappers were killed in encounters. Law enforcers claimed to have killed at least 229 suspected terrorists and kidnappers in different raids in Balochistan, 315 in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), 40 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and four in Gilgit-Baltistan, the report said.

On the issue of military courts, the report said that 275 cases were referred to the military courts which convicted 274 of them. The fate of one remains unknown. The military courts awarded the death sentence to 161 prisoners while 113 were imprisoned.

On enforced disappearances, it said that another 728 Pakistanis were added to the list of missing persons in 2016, the highest in at least six years, taking the toll to 1,219, according to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances.

On the issue of ‘Female Prisoners and Juveniles,’ the commission quoted a report by the Ministry of Interior published in October, which stated that of the 939 women incarcerated in jails in Punjab at the time, 110 were accompanied by their children. Out of these 110 women, 60 were under-trial, 45 had been sentenced while five were facing the death penalty . HRCP recommended that efforts should be made for maintenance and protection of children of incarcerated mothers outside the prison once they are of school-going age. The report said that torture remained the foremost instrument of evidence collection in the criminal justice system of the country. It further stated that around 14,628 Pakistani migrant workers were incarcerated abroad between 2005 and 2015.

The watchdog welcomed the enactment of new laws to protect women but decried an uptick in religiously motivated vigilantism.

“People have been given impunity if they kill in the name of religion, if they cheat in the name of religion, if they lie in the name of religion. The state has to end this,” said Asma Jahangir, the commission’s chairman while addressing a news conference. “It is doing no service to our religion.”

Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy, but the mere accusation is enough to ignite mob violence and lynchings.

The report said that about three million cases were pending in the country’s courts in 2016. It said 15 people, 10 Muslims and five non-Muslims, were booked for blasphemy. Two Muslims and as many Christians were sentenced to death for blasphemy. One person charged with blasphemy who had been languishing in jail for four years was acquitted by the Lahore High Court.

Freedom of speech also took a hit last year with threats of blasphemy charges levelled against those who challenged state authority, said the report. Six journalists and a blogger were killed last year. There has been a spike in the level of “intimidation of the media and increased levels of self-censorship by the media,” it said.

“The year 2016 saw a disturbing rise in assaults on media houses, TV channel and newspaper offices as well as press clubs by militant, religious and political groups,” the report said.

Asma Jahangir assailed intelligence and security agencies for unlawfully detaining people, including five bloggers who were held for several weeks before being freed earlier this year.

The report also criticized a new cyber law that allows the authorities to access a person’s online accounts without a warrant.

Asma Jahangir also noted progress in Pakistan, saying that same lawmakers who once said killing a woman in the name of honour was “social tradition,” enacted a law to try to end it.

Women are present in all walks of life in Pakistan, she said. “When I first began there were very few women lawyers but now there are so many bright young women out there, performing better than anyone,” Asma said.

It further said that deaths linked to terrorism in Pakistan dropped by 45 percent in 2016 as compared to 2015. In Gilgit-Baltistan, out of the 23 murder cases registered in 2016, 13 were of honour killing. At least 187 women, 40 out of them in honour-related crimes, were murdered in the first 10 months of 2016 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Punjab jails held 49,603 prisoners against a capacity of 23,617, Sindh 20,308 against 12,245 and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 11,200 against 7,547. Of the total 1,497 females in prisons, Punjab had 920 women, Sindh 249, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 309, Balochistan 18 and Gilgit-Baltistan had one woman in jail.

Out of the four Ahmadis targeted for murder during 2016, three were doctors. The country saw several incidents of violence against Christians. The Hindu community complained of land grabbing, attacks, kidnapping, forced conversions, temple desecrations, rape, and murder, according to the HRCP report. Killing of six journalists and a blogger and the fallout of certain news reports escalated the environment of intimidation of the media and increased levels of self­censorship by the media.

The total number of sexual abuse cases including abduction, missing children and child marriage in 2016, stood at 4,139 bringing the number of abused children to 11 per day and showing an increase of 10 per cent from 2015.

The HRCP recommended the government to immediately reinstate the moratorium on death penalty with the aim of abolition. It asked the government to ratify the convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances and also introduce a specific law against torture in line with the Convention against Torture obligations. The government has also been recommended to devise and implement policy to ensure speedy justice and construct new jails to counter overcrowding in prisons.