ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani officials on Tuesday executed 12 people in the country's single-largest day of executions since a moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in December, officials said.
The executions are sure to raise concerns over due process and proper oversight of the country's troubled criminal justice system, which rights groups say often does little to protect defendants.
Authorities at different jails in the country's largest province of Punjab hanged 10 people Tuesday who had been sentenced to death in murder cases, said the provincial Home Minister Shuja Khanzada. He said authorities planned to execute more convicted criminals in the coming weeks.
"We have started a process, and it will continue," he told The Associated Press.
The superintendent of the main jail in the southern port city of Karachi, Qazi Nazir, said they executed two convicted murderers and handed the bodies over to their families.
Late last year, Pakistan's prime minister lifted the death-penalty moratorium specifically for terrorism-related cases after a December Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar killed 150 people, most of them children. Last week, in a controversial step, the government completely lifted the death-penalty ban for all cases. Human rights groups estimate Pakistan has roughly 8,000 prisoners on death row.
One of the most closely watched execution cases is that of Shafqat Hussain, who family members say was 14 when he was sentenced to death by a court in Karachi for the murder of a seven-year-old boy. Hussain's family proclaims his innocence and Justice Project Pakistan, the legal group handling his case, says Hussain was tortured into making a false confession. Hussain is scheduled to be hanged on March 19.
Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen shot and killed a former lawyer for the Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. find Osama bin Laden.
The lawyer Samiullah Khan Afridi was assassinated Tuesday in the northwestern city of Peshawar before fleeing, senior police officer Shakir Khan said.
The lawyer was killed months after he announced that he will no longer be representing Dr. Shakil Afridi Afridi, who was convicted in May 2012 of "conspiring against the state" by giving money and providing medical treatment to militants, not for helping the CIA track down bin Laden.
The lawyer left Pakistan in November after receiving threats from militants; Khan said the lawyer recently came back from abroad.
A spokesman for the Taliban-linked Jamaat-ul-Ahrar group, Ahsanullah Ahsan, claimed responsibility for the killing in a telephone call to The Associated Press from an unidentified location.
Dr. Afridi, ran a vaccination campaign in the northwestern city of Abbottabad as a cover for a CIA-backed effort to obtain DNA samples from a home where Osama bin Laden was later killed during a 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the lawyer's killing as a "heinous act of violence."
She said Pakistan has assured the U.S. that Dr. Afridi is being treated humanely and is in good health. "We continue to believe his conviction and the severity of his sentence are both unjust and unwarranted," Psaki said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.