Pakistan has postponed the execution of the country’s first known paraplegic on death row, about an hour before he was to be hanged.
The man’s family welcomed the development with relief and urged authorities to spare his life on medical grounds.
The day before, Pakistan’s Supreme Court refused to halt the execution of 43-year-old Abdul Basit, who uses a wheelchair since becoming paralysed from the waist down since contracting meningitis in prison in 2010.
Basit has been on death row since 2009, convicted of murdering a man in a financial dispute in Punjab province.
According to prison official Mohammad Safdar, a magistrate made the decision to postpone the death sentence after talking to Basit. The hanging was initially scheduled for dawn.
There were no further details on the postponement and it was unclear if another date for the executions was set.
Under Pakistani law, authorities can delay executions on medical grounds but a convict can only be pardoned by the country’s president. There was no immediate statement from President Mamnoon Hussain.
Basit’s family members were waiting outside the high security prison in the city of Faisalabad in eastern Punjab province for the sentence to be carried out so they could take the body for burial. “Why do they want his execution? He is already severely sick, what will they get from his hanging?” Basit’s mother, Nusrat Perveen, said.
Campaigners say there is a danger the hanging could go wrong and end up being a breach of the prisoner’s dignity, which is protected by Pakistani laws. His sister, Shugufta Sultana, said the family was “terrified and nervous”. “We were waiting for bad news but God gave a new life to my brother and his execution was postponed,” she said.
Basit’s lawyers and the rights group Reprieve had petitioned Pakistan’s top court to halt the execution.
Yesterday, Reprieve’s caseworker, Kate Higham, also welcomed the postponement, saying the execution would have violated “both the prison’s own rules and Pakistan’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment”.
Earlier, Amnesty International also urged Pakistan to halt Basit’s execution and called for a moratorium on all executions in the country.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, authorities have hanged 236 people since lifting a 2008 moratorium on executions in December, after a deadly Taleban attack on a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed 150 people, mostly children.
But only one in ten of the 236 prisoners executed since then have been convicted of a terror attack. International rights groups, including Reprieve and Amnesty, have urged Pakistan to stop executions.