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Thousands face death row reprieve

The Pakistani cabinet has approved a plan to commute the sentences of thousands of prisoners on death row to life imprisonment, officials say.

The proposal, which must be endorsed by President Musharraf, is expected to benefit some 7,000 condemned prisoners.

Rights group Amnesty International said the move would reprieve about one-third of the world's death row population.

It is still not clear if inmates sentenced for drugs, terrorism or spying offences would also benefit.

"We hope that the action will benefit all prisoners on death row, without distinction," an Amnesty statement said.

"We also urge President Musharraf to formally endorse the cabinet's action, which will remove approximately one third of the global total of condemned prisoners in one go.

"It will be the largest mass commutation in modern times. We hope that this action by the Pakistan authorities will be a step towards a general moratorium on the death penalty with the ultimate aim of abolishing it."

Indian 'spy'

Correspondents say that while the commutations will only come into effect after final approval by President Musharraf, that process should be a formality.

In 2002, the government headed by him granted a similar commutation to juvenile prisoners on death row.

The latest round of commutations was first announced by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on 25 June, but the cabinet approved the proposal only on Wednesday.

Briefing the press after the cabinet meeting, Information Minister Sherry Rehman said the decision would benefit about 7,000 prisoners sentenced to die.

It is not clear whether the cabinet decision will benefit Sarabjit Singh, an Indian man on death row in Pakistan for spying and carrying out bomb attacks.

His case has commanded international attention, with India repeatedly calling for his life to be spared.

Earlier, an adviser to the prime minister on home affairs indicated the decision may exclude certain categories of prisoners, such as those sentenced in cases involving drugs and terrorism.

Ms Rehman was not available to clarify the cabinet's position on the categories of prisoners who will remain on death row.


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