International Religious Figures Call for Mercy for Death-Row Pakistani

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International Religious Figures Call for Mercy for Death-Row Pakistani

Religious leaders from the UK, US and Pakistan have called on Pakistan to halt plans to execute a man who was convicted as a child, and who key witnesses have now testified is innocent.
 
Aftab Bahadur Masih was arrested at the age of 15, and tortured by police into giving false evidence. His conviction was rushed through the court under now-discredited ‘Speedy Trials’ legislation, and was based on the testimony of two witnesses – both of who have since recanted their evidence, testifying that Aftab is innocent, and that they were tortured by police into giving statements.

Aftab is due to be executed at 04.30 Pakistan time tomorrow (00.30 BST), having been imprisoned on Pakistan’s 8,500-strong death row since 1992. Moments ago, it was reported that Sahiwal prison was refusing to accede to a court order allowing lawyers from Justice Project Pakistan to see one of the witnesses – prisoner Ghulam Mustafa – who wished to sign a statement exonerating Aftab. Mustafa is scheduled for execution at 04.00 local time on Wednesday morning.
 
In a letter sent today to President Mamnoon Hussain, Sister Helen Prejean from the US; Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, and the Reverend George Pitcher from the UK, and the Pakistan-based National (Catholic) Commission for Justice and Peace, asked him to grant a petition for mercy.

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The letter says: “To execute Mr. Bahadur in these circumstances would be to commit a grave injustice. In contrast, the exercise of mercy is a gracious and praiseworthy act. In the light of the above, we the undersigned respectfully request that Your Excellency utilise your power under Article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan to immediately stay Mr. Bahadur’s execution and to grant him mercy.” The mercy petition was submitted last week by Aftab’s lawyers at Justice Project Pakistan and human rights organization Reprieve. 
 
The clerics’ letter follows a separate plea to the President from Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi and the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference. In a letter sent on Saturday, they say they “would like to plead your Excellency to defer the execution date… and grant him a fair and just investigation and trial.”
 
The plans to execute Aftab come just hours after a last-minute stay of execution was granted to Shafqat Hussain, who was also illegally convicted as a juvenile, on the basis of one piece of evidence – a ‘confession’ extracted from him after several days of police torture. International and Pakistani law prohibit the use of evidence obtained through torture and the handing down of death sentences to juveniles, as well as protecting the right to a fair trial.
 
Commenting, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “The President has just hours to save the life of a man who even the key witnesses at his trial now say is entirely innocent. The problems with Aftab’s case are shocking, from his arrest and torture as a child, to the torture of witnesses in order to secure a conviction, 23 years spent on death row – and now, the authorities’ attempt to prevent his exoneration. These religious leaders are right to plead for mercy on Aftab’s behalf, and we must sincerely hope that the President answers their call.”

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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