Pakistani soldier Muhammed Hussain is executed for murder

Hangman's noose There are about 8,000 condemned prisoners in Pakistan, rights groups say

A Pakistani soldier sentenced to death four years ago has become the first man to be executed in the country for almost four years, officials say.

Muhammed Hussain was condemned in 2008 for murdering his senior officer.

He was hanged at a jail in Punjab province early on Thursday morning. All his appeals for mercy were rejected.

Correspondents say the hanging ends what amounts to an unofficial moratorium on executions that has been observed since December 2008.

Every three months the president's office has issued a letter which has put a stay on all capital punishment - a routine that has been in operation for the last few years.

Human rights activists say that the critical factor in Mr Hussain's case was the fact that he was convicted by a military court.

They believe that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari may have been unwilling to stay the execution because this case involved the military.

Rights activists have expressed concern over the hanging, but say it is unclear if this means the government will abandon moves to abolish the death penalty.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chair Zohra Yusuf told the BBC's Orla Guerin in Islamabad that she did not think Thursday's hanging marked a government policy shift.

"Only recently the president asked the government to work on a draft law to abolish the death penalty," she said.

"I hope this does not have implications for other cases. But I am worried. And I am worried about what happens after March when this government finishes its term."

Sixteen executions were carried out between the Pakistan People's Party coming to power in March 2008 and December of that year.

The last execution before Thursday was that of another soldier, Shahid Abbas, for murder in December 2008.

It is thought that there are about 8,000 people currently on death row in Pakistan - rights groups say it has one of the largest numbers of prisoners on death row in the world.

Amnesty International says many death sentences are handed down after trials which appear to have been unfair, using evidence which would be inadmissible under international law.

Last year alone more than 300 prisoners were sentenced to death in Pakistan.

Media reports say that Mr Hussain's plea for clemency to President Asif Ali Zardari was rejected in December 2011.

Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani also rejected his mercy pleas.

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