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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Pakistan is home to the 'world's largest death row'

Peshawar Central Prison
Peshawar Central Prison
Exhausted from a full day's work, 25-year-old student Sohail Yafat knew he had one last stop to make before heading home: a visit to a colleague's ailing father at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology hospital, in his native Lahore, Pakistan's second city.

Yafat never expected the police to be there, waiting for him. He was arrested, and bundled into a police van.

"There was no warrant. This was all purely on suspicion," he says. "I was blindfolded, and I was brutally tortured and beaten on the way. I had never even entered a police station, so I had no idea of this world."

That was the summer of 2001. The police and a complainant had named him as an accomplice in a murder case in the town of Sahiwal, about 150km south. What followed for Yafat was harrowing: 10 years of imprisonment during which he was tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2011, a court exonerated him, acquitting him of his crimes for want of evidence.

"I was subjected to 3rd-degree torture. They beat the soles of my feet with bamboo sticks. I was beaten with whips. I was kept awake, bound so that I was positioned bolt upright and unable to sleep," he recalls.

The maximum punishment for murder suspects in Pakistan is the death penalty - Yafat says he was terrified of receiving it. In the 10 years he spent in prison, having seen the conditions under which death row prisoners lived, he was determined to work for their rights, "to ease their pain", he says.

In 2014, the government lifted a 6-year moratorium on executions as part of a counter-terrorism plan. It then expanded the use of executions to include non-terrorism offences in 2015, saying the measure was needed to combat crime.

Last year, Pakistan executed 87 people, making it the 5th most prolific executioner in the world, according to an annual report on the global use of the death penalty released by Amnesty International on Tuesday.

Together, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan accounted for 87 % of all recorded worldwide executions, the report said. China is widely believed to execute thousands of people every year, but data on executions "is classified as a state secret", according to Amnesty.

In total, 1,032 executions were recorded in 2016, down by 37 %, but death sentences were at the highest level since Amnesty began compiling statistics, with 3,117 people sentenced to death worldwide.

Of those, more than 360 people were sentenced in Pakistan, and are currently living on the world's largest recorded death row, home to more than 6,000 prisoners.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Pakistan's prisons are chronically overcrowded, partly owing to an overloaded justice system that incarcerates a large proportion of under-trial prisoners. As of April 2015, the country's prisons held at least 80,169 prisoners, against a capacity of just 46,705, according to World Prison Brief.

Within the prisons themselves, special areas are designated for death row prisoners. As many as eight prisoners will be forced to share an 8-by-10ft cell, says Yafat, who spent years at the Sahiwal Jail tending to fellow prisoners.

Source: Yahoo News, April 12, 2017

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