Rights group urges Afghan president to suspend death penalty

Other News Materials 17 April 2008 15:56 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - A rights group urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday to suspend the death penalty and reject signing execution orders for about 100 prisoners on death row.

The New York-based Human Right Watch also called on the president to announce a moratorium on the death penalty.

"The Supreme Court's blanket confirmation of 100 death sentences shows disturbing disregard for the right to life," said Elaine Pearson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch.

"The Afghan justice system still has a long way to go to respect the basic rights of the accused," she said.

The prisoners sentenced to death had been convicted of "kidnapping, hostage taking, armed robbery, murder, and rape," and their cases were sent to the president's office on April 16, the statement said.

Abdul Rashid Rashidi, spokesman for the Afghan Supreme Court confirmed that more than 100 cases of capital punishment had been sent to Afghan President's office for his "final assessments and order for execution."

"The death sentence cases were sent during the past four or five years in different times, not all at once," Rashid said. He also denied that prisoners convicted of kidnapping, hostage taking or armed robbery were among those on death row.

"According to our law, we don't sentence any criminal for kidnapping, robbery or political reasons to death penalty," he said. "Only those who committed murder or massacres were sentenced to death."

In October, Afghan authorities executed by firing squad 15 prisoners on death row at Pule Charkhi, a notorious prison, on the eastern outskirts of Kabul.

"Neither the prisoners nor their relatives were informed in advance about the executions," the Human Rights Watch statement said, referring to latest execution.

Rashidi said the 15 executed prisoners were all "found guilty by the president and therefore according to our law, they were executed."

"President Karzai should suspend the death penalty immediately," said Pearson. "More mass executions will be a huge setback for the rule of law in Afghanistan."

The statement also said that Human Rights Watch "opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and unusual form of punishment and a violation of fundamental human rights."