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Expert calls for independent assessment of death row Pakistani juvenile’s torture

Shafqat Hussain
Shafqat Hussain
A torture expert has called for an independent medical assessment of a Pakistani sentenced to death as a child and set for execution next week, who was tortured by police into ‘confessing’.

In a statement given to his lawyer, Shafqat Hussain, whose execution date has been set for June 9th, described how police ‘burned me with cigarettes’, ‘pulled out my fingernails’ and ‘even electrocuted me’. Based on this statement, as well as information from Shafqat’s lawyer about the scars she saw on his body, torture expert Dr Frank Arnold has called for Shafqat to have an independent medical assessment, as required under international law.

In his report, released today by human rights charity Reprieve, Dr Frank Arnold says ‘The Istanbul Protocol requires a medical rapporteur to make an overall evaluation of the likelihood that some or all of their clinical findings are due to torture. Mr. Hussain's descriptions and those of Ms. Haq [Shafqat’s lawyer] are in accordance with torture by suspension, handcuffing, and electrocution.’ The Istanbul Protocol is a set of UN guidelines governing international standards on the investigation and assessment of individuals who allege torture.

Shafqat Hussain was convicted of kidnap and murder and sentenced to death in 2004. His conviction was based on the ‘confession’ extracted by police following days of the torture he described to his lawyer. Evidence collected by Shafqat’s legal team shows that he was under 18 at the time of his arrest. On Monday the government issued an execution warrant for Shafqat, despite the execution of juveniles being illegal under both Pakistani and international law.

In order to suggest that Shafqat was not a juvenile at the time of his conviction, and carry out his execution, the government’s Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) led inquiry into his age relied almost exclusively on the trial record in making its assessment of Shafqat’s age. This is despite a significant number of inconsistencies and errors in Government statements regarding the case, which have yet to be resolved – including an admission by the Interior Minister himself that the jail’s doctor and jail authorities contradicted one another on Shafqat’s age – and the existence of school records (currently in the possession of the Government) which showed him to have been under 18 at the time of his arrest.

The only inquiry undertaken into Shafqat’s age has been by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) – an organisation which the Interior Minister said earlier this month requires a “clean-up operation…to weed out corrupt elements.” A Pakistani court described the FIA inquiry as ‘prima facie illegal’.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Shafqat submitted a mercy petition to the President of Pakistan, asking him to commute Shafqat’s sentence on the basis of doubts as to the safety of his conviction.

Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve’s death penalty team said: “The Pakistani government’s relentless attempt to execute Shafqat Hussain refuses to be bound by basic standards of justice or humanity. Quite aside from all the evidence showing Shafqat was just a child when he was arrested, his conviction was based solely on a ‘confession’ extracted following horrific police torture. International and Pakistani standards are clear that torture must be independently assessed and investigated, yet the government is continuing to turn a blind eye to this and cover-up the myriad problems surrounding Shafqat’s case. They must halt his execution at once so and allow some light to be shone into the darkest corners of Pakistan's criminal justice system.”

Source: Reprieve, June 3, 2015

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