ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 17 prisoners were executed in Pakistan on Tuesday in an apparent effort to show visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping that the country is serious about improving public safety.
The prisoners were hanged in jails across Pakistan as Xi was in Islamabad to announce a $46 billion aid and development package for the energy-starved and cash-poor country.
In December, the government lifted a six-year-old moratorium on capital punishment after the Pakistani Taliban slaughtered about 150 teachers and students at an army-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar. But while the threat of terrorism was initially cited as the reason for lifting the moratorium, Pakistan is now executing prisoners for a host of other violent crimes.
Several of the prisoners executed Tuesday had been convicted of rape, while others had committed murders that do not appear to be linked to Islamist militant groups.
Pakistan is now executing prisoners at such a pace that public safety officials said Tuesday that they had lost track of how many had been killed since late December. As of late March, however, the Interior Ministry estimated that 61 executions have been carried out since the moratorium was lifted.
And death row appears to be more active when a foreign dignitary is visiting the capital.
In January, when Secretary State of John F. Kerry made a two-day visit here, Pakistan hanged seven prisoners in one day. Last month, as Pakistan was preparing to welcome the emir of Qatar, Sheik Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, it executed 12 people in one day.
The 17 executions on Tuesday occurred shortly before Xi addressed a joint session of Parliament.
Xi said his visit showed that “no one can destroy” the historical ties between the two countries.
On Monday, Xi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finalized a deal for massive new Chinese investment in highways, energy projects and maritime research in Pakistan.
But the full implementation of that deal, including a highway that will link China to the Arabian Sea, could depend on whether Pakistan can dislodge terrorist groups from their havens here.
For years, Chinese leaders have been urging Pakistan to crack down on militants who they suspect have ties to Muslim separatists in northwestern China. There also have been concerns about Pakistan’s ability to ensure the safety of Chinese engineers and project managers working in the country.
After meeting with Xi, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain said the army will assign 10,000 soldiers to oversee security for Chinese workers in the country.
In his speech to Parliament, however, Xi praised the Pakistani military for its ongoing operation against Islamist extremists in the country’s northwestern tribal areas.
“It has made tremendous efforts and endured enormous sacrifices,” Xi said. “Pakistan is the front-line state which is battling terrorism.”
But human rights activists and some Pakistani legal scholars are increasingly alarmed by Pakistan’s push to execute those on death row.
Last week, the Supreme Court blocked the planned executions of six prisoners convicted in newly created military courts. The plaintiffs had argued that the sentences had been handed down out of public view and without an opportunity for an appeal.
Late last month, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry issued a 30-day reprieve for a prisoner whose scheduled execution generated international outrage. Shafqat Hussain had been convicting of kidnapping a 7-year-old boy in 2004. His family and attorneys say Hussain was only 14 at the time and had been tortured into making a confession, which he has since retracted.
According to Reprieve, a London-based organization that is against the death penalty, 8,261 people are on death row in Pakistan, including more than 800 juveniles.
Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper reported Tuesday that an additional 10 executions are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
At its current pace, Pakistan is likely to emerge as one of the global leaders in state-sanctioned executions this year.
Based on a recent report by Amnesty International, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United States carried out the most executions in 2014. There were 289 reported executions in Iran, 90 in Saudi Arabia, 61 in Iraq and 35 in the United States.
China considers executions to be a state secret, but Amnesty International said that country carried out “thousands” last year.
Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.