PAKISTAN. PM URGES: ALL DEATH SENTENCES SHOULD BE COMMUTED TO HONOR BHUTTO
|President Pervez Musharraf
June 21, 2008: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for his country's thousands of death sentences to be commuted to life in prison as part of a birthday tribute to slain leader Benazir Bhutto.
Though Gilani does not have the authority to directly commute the sentences, he said he would forward a recommendation to empty death row to President Pervez Musharraf, who is expected to approve it.
The mass commutation, which would not prevent future death sentences from being handed down, would be a major victory for human rights activists.
Earlier this week, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said about 7,000 people â nearly one quarter of all prisoners â were awaiting execution on Pakistan's death row, which was among the world's largest. In 2007, 309 prisoners were sentenced to death and 134 were hanged, the group said.
Gilani said he wanted to stop the executions as a tribute to Bhutto, the leader of his Pakistan People's Party who was slain in a bombing and shooting attack outside an election rally in December. Bhutto's party went on to win February elections and take control of the new governing coalition.
Gilani's recommendation came on what would have been Bhutto's 55th birthday, which was marked in low-key ceremonies at her mausoleum in the town of Naudero. Parliament observed a minute of silence for Bhutto.
"We have asked the Ministry of the Interior to send a recommendation to the president to convert the death sentence of prisoners to life in prison," he said, adding that his action was a tribute to Bhutto, who sacrificed her life to help the country.
Gilani also recommended that most prisoners, except those guilty of the worst crimes, have their sentences reduced by three months. (Sources: Ap, 21/06/2008)