PAKISTAN: The saga of the prisoners waiting in death row 

Malik Ayub Sumbal, Islamabad


More than 8000 prisoners sentenced with death by the Pakistani courts during the last two decades are still waiting to meet their fate in the Pakistani death cells.

These prisoners have been indulged in long awaited appeals to the Pakistani courts and other complicated judicial matters.

According to the data collected by this correspondent from the various sources and the Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working for the prisoner’s rights in Pakistan, the maximum number of prisoners awaiting the death prisoners are in the jails of Punjab, the largest province of the country.

Among the figure of 8000 prisoners are also foreign nationals, females, young people and older citizens.

For a prisoner awaiting the death sentence for an indefinite period is a terrible process and many of them become psychotic.

The human rights organizations and the civil society activists in Pakistan are against the death sentence, they call it an inhuman act but despite this there is lack of attention to their fate by these organisations.

In 2005 the number of death sentence prisoners was 5447 that has been raised now to 8000 inmates while the capacity of the prisons has not been increased to hold them in decent conditions.

Sarim Burney, the head of the Ansar Burney Welfare Trust was the pioneer in working for the rights of prisoners in Pakistan. When approached by this correspondent he said: “The philosophy of jail is actually to make the criminals and accused one, a respectable citizen of the country. But unfortunately here in Pakistani jail the prisoners instead become hard criminals and get involved in heinous activities in the jails due to the environment in which they are forced to live. The most wanted criminals have organized networks in Pakistani jails.”

He said that to give freedom to a prisoner is one of the greatest act considered in Islam, Sarim said that there is not any kind of further interpretation about the crime of the inmate but just to release him is a great and devout act in front of God.

Burney said that the number of these death sentence prisoners has been rising on the each passing of day and they exist in a state between life and death.

Sarim said that the delay in the death sentence of these prisoners is actually due to the lengthy process of appeals and the slow and inefficient judicial system in the country.

He said that when a death sentence prisoner has passed more than 18 years in jail awaiting the decision of an appeal he has already served a life sentence. To be executed after that is a mockery of justice.

The Pakistani jails and judicial authorities refuse permission to the media and journalists to visit the jails, having the lame excuse that the most dangerous criminals are those that they wish to visit.

This correspondent tried his utmost but the concerned authorities failed to give permission to move towards the inner saga of Pakistani jails.

There are several death sentence prisoners who have died in prison while awaiting their tragic fate, the death sentence as awarded by the courts.

While talking to a number of relatives of these prisoners the most common request was the demand for justice from the Human Rights organizations and the international community as they can expect nothing from the law of the land or the government.

They said that it is not justice that their family members have spent decades in the jails while the government decides their fate.

Muhammad Junaid whose father was awarded the death sentence in 1986 (when he was just two year old), is now 27. He said: “I have passed the most beautiful age of my life in the struggle for fighting the life of my father, who has been trapped in a fake murder case. The division of our ancestral land led us to this prevailing situation as the bothers of my father make him the accused in a fake murder case to grab the whole property, even to make us deprived from our share.”

Junaid said that he has been passing from the courts and police matters for last 24 years. But still he is not sure that whether his father will be released or hanged in that fake murder charge.

There are hundreds of cases under trial in Pakistani courts in which the judiciary failed to announce the final verdict because they are confused. These cases have been lingering for the last two decades.

According to the sources and the while talking to a few death sentenced inmates on their mobile phones, the complaints are against the Pakistani jails laws and the monopoly of the jail staff. There are prisoners who have been awarded the death sentence and prefer to remain in prison due to family enmity and the possibility of being assassinated. They feel they are safe in the jails.

A death sentence prisoner Khalid Khan (not his real name on his request) said: “I am safe is jail until there is a formal friendship agreement finalized between my family and our rival group. I had not applied even for the bail and I am in jail for last seven years.”

There are also prisoners who are operating their criminal networks while sitting in these jails with the proper assistance and full cooperation of jails authorities.

A senior journalist Muhammad Zamir A said when asked about the death sentence prisoners issue in Pakistan, he said: “Majority of the prisoners who are waiting for the death sentence is due to the slow judicial system and long awarded appeals process. The majority of the inmates are in the jails of Punjab.” He said that the land cases and the family disputes are the root causes of these crimes and murders.

Zamir said even if there is a compromise between the two parties, the defendant and plaintiff then there is also a long process to get rid of the murder case.

A senior lawyer Shahid Khattak when contacted to know the reason behind the severe delay in the death sentence cases, said: “The poor police performance and tactics to mold the cases according to their own vested interest is the reason behind the delay in the criminal cases.”

He said that the case and challan (police legal documents) is the responsibility of police to present in front of the court. Shahid said that the incompetent police personnel have even failed to write the cases and Challan’s history due to the lack of education and negligence.

He said that in a murder case police take several months in the preparation of the case Challan. In a normal murder case in Pakistani courts almost 10 years are required from the Session Court to the Supreme Court.

Khattak said that if the Session Court awards the death sentence to a murderer then according to the new amendments in the Pakistani laws he is not sent to the Death Cell until or unless the High Court announced its verdict. In Pakistani courts there are almost 2.5 to 3 million cases are under trial. He added.

Shahid Khattak said that there is a lot to speed up and improve in the judicial system in this country. He said that the judicial authorities have not had time to listen these criminal cases as they are involved in to the constitutional ambiguities in the country.

The correspondent contacted the Inspector General, IG Jail Police Punjab, Kokab Nadeem Waraich and his staff officer said that he is out of office. Repeated efforts to contact him failed.

Similar effort were made to contact the Deputy Inspector General, Jail Police Mubashir Ahmed Khan with the same results.

A Non Government Organization NGOs working for the rights of the prisoner in Pakistan, Chairperson, Madiha Noor Latifi while taking to this correspondent said: “We have raised our voice for the these prisoners whose cases are in indeterminate state for last two to three decades and now they are near about to die by the lethargic life of prisons, but the concerned authorities have nothing to do with the human rights here in Pakistan.”

She said that the poor people of Pakistan were optimistic for the judiciary in Pakistan after its restoration but the situation is worse than before because now there is another power corridor emerged in the country stakeholders and the judiciary is also in the fight to save its writ in the country, as per their own vested interests.

The prisoners live in hope of their release but realise that they may have to face an inevitable fate.

There is a lot efforts and struggle required for these “Death Awarded” inmates to geared up the slow pace of the case hearing process in this country.


About the Author: Mr. Malik Ayub Sumbal is the free lance journalist, his Email is


Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-020-2011
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Death penalty, Prison conditions,