Death row population in Pakistan
Pakistan currently has the largest reported death row population in the world — nearly 26% of the world’s recorded death row of around 18,3001 individuals. Alarmingly, the 4,688 prisoners2 awaiting execution in the country – often under miserable conditions with poor hygiene and overcrowding – include juvenile offenders, women, and those who are mentally ill.
According to official government figures of 2012, Pakistan’s death row stood at 7,1643. Since 2013, Pakistan has sentenced at least 1,692 people to death, while over 500 people have been executed since 2014 which means that Pakistan’s death row should have had a net increase of almost 1,200 to a total about 8,400.
However, the federal ombudsperson submitted before the Supreme Court that Pakistan’s death row population now stands at 4,688. This indicates a drop of 2,476 prisoners.
Despite this surprising reduction in the official number of condemned prisoners, it is worth noting that Pakistan continues to add prisoners to its death row — at an average of almost one death sentence per day since 2004. In the last 14 years, Pakistan has sentenced 4,500 people to death4 and executed around 821 people, at the rate of executing almost 2 inmates for every 11 people sentenced.
The decrease in the death row population seems to have taken place in Punjab, falling from 6,604 to 3,890. Other provinces have seen their death row increase at a consistent rate, from 560 to 798, congruent with their respective sentencing and execution ratios.
But despite this unprecedented reduction, Punjab still accounts for 81% of the over 500 executions that have taken place and 89% of 1,235 death sentences awarded countrywide since the moratorium was lifted in December 2014. It now accounts for 83% of the total number of prisoners on death row.
There also seems to be a disconnect between the sentencing courts and the appellate courts. While deciding 546 appeals, a special Supreme Court bench in 2014 acquitted or commuted sentences of death row prisoners in 467 appeals – a rate of 85% – on the basis of wrongful convictions. The hastily handed death sentence means a prisoner spends an average of 11 years on death row.
The data illustrates Pakistan’s ubiquitous use of the death penalty — evident from the fact that every 7th person sentenced to death around the world and every 4th person on death row in the world is a Pakistani.
1Amnesty International, Death Sentences and Executions, 2009-2018
2The Express Tribune, Jails overcapacity by 22,000 prisoners, SC told (2018)
3The Express Tribune, Waiting on death row: Prison data from around the country (2012)
4Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Death Penalty Database