MULTAN/RAWALPINDI/KARACHI - The authorities on Tuesday hanged 12 convicted murderers in prisons across the country, the highest number of executions in a single day since the government lifted a six-year moratorium on capital punishment.

Ten of the convicts were hanged in Punjab and two in Karachi. The partial lifting of the moratorium, which began in 2008, initially only applied to terrorism cases but was last week extended to all capital offences.

The latest hangings bring to 39 the number sent to the gallows since the government resumed executions in December after Taliban militants gunned down more than 150 people, most of them children, at a school in Peshawar.

In Punjab, three murder convicts were executed form Jhang, two each from Rawalpindi and Mianwali, and one each from Multan, Faisalabad and Gujranwala. Two other executions planned for Tuesday were stayed by courts.

Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada confirmed the executions in his province and told AFP that more were scheduled in coming days. “Today 10 convicts were hanged in different jails of the province,” Khanzada said, adding that further executions would be carried out for those “whose mercy petitions have been rejected”.

A rapist was hanged in Central Jail Multan on Tuesday morning while the execution of another death convict was cancelled just a couple of hours earlier of his hanging because of a reconciliation agreement submitted by his lawyer in the court. Zafar Iqbal, a resident of Gelywala area, was hanged for kidnapping, raping and murdering a six year old girl. He was arrested by Gelywal police and the court handed him death sentence. Convict Waqar Nazeer, a resident of Mumtazabad, whose execution was cancelled, had murdered one Malik Rafiq during a dacoity at the house of the deceased on April 24, 1996.

The two murder convicts, Malik Nadim Zaman and Muhammad Javed, were hanged at Adyala Jail of Rawalpindi. Nadim was arrest by Airport Police and convicted for murdering his father, two sisters and a nephew in 1997. Kalar Syedan Police nabbed Javed on account of murdering his cousin on a marriage issue.

Muhammad Afzal and Muhammad Faisal were executed in Central Prison, Karachi early Tuesday morning as they were convicted for murdering one Abdul Jabbar during robbery bid in city’s Korangi area in 1998. An anti-terrorism court (ATC) had awarded the death sentence to the robbers in 1999, along with their third accomplice who died in jail in 2006.

Afzal and Faisal were to be hanged on March 5 this year but their hanging was halted as their heirs moved the Sindh High Court (SHC) against their execution with a compromise application. The SHC referred their case to the trial court that dismissed their compromise application, terming it as non-maintainable. The petitioners then appealed before the Supreme Court as the ATC had issued their black warrants for March 17. The SC upheld the decision of trial court observing that in a case under Anti Terrorism Act, compromise cannot be reached with victim’s family.

Human rights group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process. Only one person was executed during the period of the moratorium – a soldier convicted by a court martial and sent to the gallows in 2012. Supporters of the death penalty in Pakistan argue that it is the only effective way to deal with the scourge of militancy.

They say the courts are notoriously slow, rely heavily on witness testimony rather than crime scene evidence, and provide little protection for judges or witnesses who are often intimidated or bribed into dropping cases. But rights campaigners have been highly critical, citing problematic convictions in Pakistan’s criminal justice system, which they say is replete with police torture and unfair trials.

“This shameful retreat to the gallows is no way to resolve Pakistan’s pressing security and law and order problems,” Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director, said last week. European Union diplomats have also raised the issue of capital punishment in meetings with Pakistani officials focused on trade and human rights. The EU granted Pakistan the much coveted “GSP+” status in 2014, giving it access to highly favourable trade tariffs, conditional on Pakistan enacting certain commitments on human rights.

Among those due to be hanged is Shafqat Hussain, who was condemned to death as a teenager for killing a seven-year-old boy in 2004. Authorities said he would be executed on Thursday after a court dismissed his appeal. Hussain’s case has triggered outrage from rights campaigners, who complain he did not get a fair trial and say he was only 15 at the time of the killing.

He had been due to face the noose on January 14, but the government halted the execution amid protests about his age and ordered a new investigation to determine how old he was. Jail officials said last week the interior ministry had rejected the plea and a fresh death warrant had been issued, but on Tuesday his family and lawyers were still trying to persuade the authorities to stop the execution.

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team of Reprieve, a British legal charity that is working with Hussain’s lawyers, said time to save him was “running out”. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan “has the opportunity to save the life of someone tortured into ‘confessing’ to a crime when he was just a child, and to conduct the full inquiry into his case that he promised,” she said.