Hearing Tomorrow for Pakistani Sent to Death Row as a Juvenile

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Hearing Tomorrow for Pakistani Sent to Death Row as a Juvenile

LONDON - The Islamabad High Court will tomorrow consider whether to halt the hanging of a prisoner who was sentenced to death as a juvenile, given the emergence of serious flaws with a government-ordered inquiry into his case.

Shafqat Hussain was arrested in 2004 as a minor and sentenced to death for kidnap and murder, on the basis of a ‘confession’ extracted after nine days of torture. Following the widespread resumption of executions in the country, Mr Hussain’s hanging was scheduled to take place last month, but was stayed pending a government investigation, after his legal team at Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) produced evidence of his juvenility in 2004. Mr Hussain’s stay of execution will expire tomorrow (Friday), and there are fears that a so-called ‘Black Warrant’ for his hanging could be handed down within days.

At a hearing tomorrow (Friday), the Islamabad High Court will hear concerns about the neutrality of an ongoing probe by Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Authority (FIA) – a body that is not authorized to examine human rights violations such as torture. This week, it was revealed that the government investigators have confiscated and tampered with important evidence relating to Mr Hussain’s case. Today, it emerged that local authorities in Mr Hussain’s province have cancelled his birth certificate, which showed him to have been a juvenile in 2004, on the basis of a school record. However, the record itself also appears to show Mr Hussain to have been a minor at the time of his arrest.

Mr Hussain’s lawyers are asking the Court to order an independent, impartial and transparent investigation into his young age and torture at the time of his arrest, and to stop the FIA from publishing its recommendations. A petition submitted there today details how Mr Hussain’s family could not afford a lawyer at the time of his original trial, and how his public defender failed to raise the issue of his juvenility, as well as details of his mistreatment. No inquiry has ever been held into Mr Hussain's allegations that he was tortured into a forced confession.

Commenting, Sarah Belal, Mr Hussain’s lawyer and director of Justice Project Pakistan, said: “Time is running out for Shafqat, and astoundingly, we have still seen no proper investigation of his allegations of torture and juvenility. Instead, we have seen the FIA rushing to complete a so-called inquiry as a mere prelude to recommending the hanging of my client. We now look to the courts to intervene for justice - we need an independent inquiry to get to the truth, and ensure that next week, Pakistan doesn’t execute another innocent.”

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “This terrible case illustrates the grave dangers of abandoning due process in a bid to rush to execute those on death row. Here we have a man who was a child when, unable to defend himself, he was arrested, tortured and convicted on the basis of a forced ‘confession.’ The government’s failure to properly investigate the case – in particular, the serious concerns about his juvenile status – is yet another injustice meted upon a man who has already spent years on death row. The international community must speak out against this outrage, lest thousands of others be similarly mistreated, stripped of legal protections and rushed to the gallows.”

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Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.

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