In a move that could benefit Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, leading Pakistani rights activist Ansar Burney on Thursday asked President Pervez Musharraf to convert all death sentences in the country to life imprisonment.
In a letter written to Musharraf, Burney drew the President's attention to "the suffering of thousands of condemned prisoners languishing in Pakistani jails and facing the worst human rights violations".
"This is an issue on which we have spoken several times during our meetings and an issue on which I have already sent several appeals," the former human rights minister said.
"In the greater interest of human rights and morality, I would like to request you once again that you please reconsider my previous appeals and take action to end the suffering of these human beings," he said.
"I request that all death sentences in the country be halted; and all condemned prisoners have their death sentences converted into life imprisonment in the very greater interest of justice, humanity and human rights as 60 to 65 per cent of them are innocent."
Though Sarabjit's case was not specifically mentioned in the letter, Burney has been at the forefront of efforts to seek clemency for the Indian national who was sentenced to death for alleged involvement in four bomb blasts in Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990. <b1>
Sarabjit's execution was recently put off indefinitely by the Pakistan government. His family insists he accidentally crossed the border in an inebriated condition and was not involved in spying or terrorist activities as claimed by the Pakistani authorities.
Pointing out that "several thousand condemned prisoners (are) languishing in death cells across Pakistan", Burney said, "Many have had their appeals pending in courts for 10 to 30 years; some have become mentally disabled due to long years of confinement in death cells; while many others have become physically disabled and have had their arms or legs amputated because of the conditions of their confinement.
"Some condemned prisoners have even crossed the age of 100. In most death cells in Pakistan, there is a capacity for three prisoners. However in reality, there are between six and 12 prisoners in each cell. There was no drainage and the prisoners would eat in the same place where they excrete."
The prisoners, Burney said, are kept in their cells for most of the day and allowed out only for 30 minutes a day in the more strict prisons.
Burney appealed to Musharraf to take action to end the miseries of the prisoners "because of the mental and physical condition of these condemned prisoners, the harsh suffering that has been inflicted onto them, and the large number of years many of them have already spent in death cells".
"Sir, if someone has already spent over a life sentence in a death cell, which was far worse than any normal prison, or that person has become mentally or physically disabled due to the conditions in which the state placed him, how then can we hang such a person after already inflicting such great punishment on him?" he asked.
"This inhumane treatment is against the law of the country, and it would be immoral and most importantly, it would be un-Islamic to hang these prisoners after already inflicting such cruelty onto them."