Pakistani jail authorities postponed executing a prisoner who is in a wheelchair an hour before he was due to be hanged Tuesday because prison rules did not make it clear how they should proceed, his lawyers said, Reuters reports.
Abdul Basit was to have been hanged in the eastern city of Faisalabad in the morning, but authorities were stymied at the last minute because he could not walk to the gallows as required by the jail manual.
“When the judicial magistrate came to the hanging, these guys tried to make him (Basit) stand at the gallows … it wasn’t possible, so the magistrate postponed the hanging,” said Wassam Waheed, a spokesman for legal aid group Justice Project Pakistan.
On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence against Basit, but only if it could be carried out in line with jail rules.
According to a Telegraph report, there was speculation that Basit would be hanged direct from his wheelchair because he would be unable to mount the scaffold.
Rights campaigners said that any attempt to hang Basit could see him either facing decapitation or prolonged strangulation as the procedures set out in prison rules for assessing the length of rope only cover prisoners able to stand.
Basit’s lawyers and international human rights groups had urged the Pakistani president to use his powers to halt the execution after their final defeat in the courts.
On Monday, his mother Nusrat Perveen publicly begged the Pakistani government to stop the hanging, “Who says that this is justice?” she said. “How can they do this to a paralysed man? Please have mercy on my son.”
“Basit’s hanging would be a grotesque spectacle and cruel injustice,” Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at the human rights group Reprieve, said earlier.
Commenting on the Supreme Court ruling, Foa said: “The court has set the prison an impossible task – there is no way of hanging Basit according to the rules, leaving the real risk that he will face a needlessly cruel and horrific execution.
“This would be in direct violation of Pakistan’s domestic and international commitments, and show that its claims to be living up to human rights standards are false.”
Basit, a father of two, became paralyzed in prison after he contracted tubercular meningitis there and was not properly treated, Waheed said.
Basit’s case is the latest in a series of high-profile hangings that have shone a spotlight on Pakistan’s crumbling justice system and its reintroduction of the death penalty.
The nation brought it back in December as a way to tackle militancy after Taliban gunmen massacred more than 130 pupils at an army-run school.
Since then, 239 people have been hanged, although few have any links to militancy. Most, like Basit, were convicted of murder. Many of their families say they were falsely accused and too poor to get good lawyers or pay bribes.
Pakistani police rarely use evidence in cases, preferring to rely on oral testimony, which is easily manipulated. Rights groups say torture in custody is commonplace and lawyers say poor defendants must rely on court-appointed lawyers who may skip most of their hearings.
Basit, 43, was convicted six years ago of murdering the uncle of a woman he was having a relationship with. He denies the charges and his family allege his lawyer took money from his accusers.