If ever the over-use of terror laws to prosecute ordinary crimes in this country needed an example, it is to be found in the death warrant issued to Shoaib Sarwar on Thursday. The stay on his execution was overturned by a Rawalpindi court on Wednesday, and he is due to be hanged on February 3rd. Following the school attack in Peshawar on Dec. 16, the simultaneous ending of the moratorium on the death penalty and the setting up of military courts in the country has been a hard and dangerous blow to the civilian justice system. And in Sarwar’s case, the execution of a convict in a non-terror related case could raise the prospect of executions being resumed for the 8,000 convicts currently on death row in Pakistan; a dangerous precedent. Rights groups are calling for an immediate halt on executions, and especially of a civilian whose case does not fall into the, albeit wide and ambiguous, “terrorism” umbrella.

There is no legal, justifiable basis for the executions of civilians even under the draconian Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA) or the ideological adrenalin of the National Action Plan (NAP). Sarwar was convicted while still a juvenile in 1998, and has already served 17 years in prison. He was almost executed in September last year, when, after a humanitarian appeal by rights groups locally and around the world, the execution was halted at the last moment.

Thousands of “suspected terrorists” have been arrested in the last month, with no concern for due process. The entire justice system has, for all intents and purposes, been turned on its head. And yet, this is a country where the open-shut murder case of Mumtaz Qadri, the confessed killer of Salmaan Taseer, cannot even secure a prosecutor for the hearing. So much for the National Action Plan. The question remains: why Shoaib Sarwar? The removal of the moratorium on death penalties has to be monitored extremely closely. There is great potential for political and economic opportunists to settle scores via a compromised legal system. If the state executes Shoaib Sarwar, there is no telling where it will stop.