The Islamabad High Court has today said it will hear the first significant legal challenge to the execution of a Pakistani who was convicted as a juvenile.
In an order handed down this morning, the Court told the Pakistani government to appear in court in two weeks to respond to concerns about the planned execution of Shafqat Hussain. Mr Hussain was arrested in 2004 as a minor and sentenced to death, on the basis of a ‘confession’ extracted from him after nine days of torture.
Following the widespread resumption of executions in the country in late 2014, Mr Hussain was told he would be hanged last month; however, the execution was stayed pending a government investigation, after lawyers at Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) produced evidence of his juvenility and forced confession.
Today's order allows Mr Hussain's lawyers at JPP to mount a legal challenge to the government’s inquiry into his case, which was discredited recently after it emerged government officials had confiscated important evidence. Mr Hussain’s stay of execution was due to expire today, and there were fears that the government would quickly seek a so-called ‘Black Warrant’ for his hanging.
Pakistan's death row is the largest in the world, holding some 8,500 prisoners. Recent research by the Justice Project Pakistan and Reprieve suggests that over 800 of these prisoners may have been arrested and sentenced to death while still juveniles.
Commenting on the decision, JPP’s director and Mr Hussain's lawyer Sarah Belal said: "Shafqat Hussain's death sentence was handed down after torture and wrongful arrest - it should never have been allowed to happen. Yet despite having promised to conduct a full and transparent inquiry into the case, the Government's inquiry so far has been riddled with problems and shrouded in secrecy. It's extremely welcome, therefore, that the Court has demanded that the Government explain itself - and opened the door for Shafqat to finally defend himself. We look forward to hearing the Government's justification for trying to hang a man whom it wrongfully arrested, tortured and sentenced to death as a child."
Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at human rights organization Reprieve, said: "In the Pakistani government's rush to execute the thousands it holds on death row, it is clear that it has all but abandoned due process. Today's decision by the Court is a victory for those who want to see real justice prevail in Pakistan - not just the hasty hangings of scapegoats and vulnerable victims like Shafqat, who was arrested as a child, tortured and sentenced to death on the basis of a forced 'confession'. Thousands of lives hang in the balance - and the international community must speak out against this wave of injustice, and urge Pakistan to change course before it is too late."
Source: Reprieve, April 17, 2015
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