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Pakistan executes man who was a juvenile when arrested

The Pakistani authorities have this morning executed a man who was almost certainly a juvenile at the time of the alleged offence.

Ansar Iqbal was arrested in 1994 on murder charges – which he denied – and sentenced to death in 1996, despite telling the court he was 15 at the time of his arrest. All the documentary evidence provided to the courts during his trial or appeal indicates that he was a child at the time of the alleged offence; however, the courts have chosen to believe the estimate of police officers that he was in his 20s. He was hanged in the early hours of today (Tuesday).

Iqbal did not have a birth certificate to submit in the early stages of the legal process because he was not registered at the time of his birth – in common with an estimated 2/3 of Pakistanis. He instead submitted school and other family records, which were dismissed by the courts. When his appeal reached Pakistan’s Supreme Court earlier this year, he provided a birth certificate issued by the country’s official National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) in 2015, which gave his date of birth as 25.12.1978 – confirming Iqbal’s account that he was a child at the time of the alleged offence in 1994.

However, the judges refused to consider the document.

Iqbal’s hanging marks at least the fourth instance in which a juvenile has been executed in Pakistan since the government resumed executions in December 2014. Some 250 prisoners have been killed so far overall, out of a total death-row population of over 8,000 – the largest in the world. A recent Reuters report revealed that the vast majority of those executed so far could not be said to have links with terrorism, contradicting a claim by the government to be hanging ‘terrorists.’

The execution of people who were children at the time of the alleged offence has long been banned under both international and Pakistani law. Iqbal’s hanging took place in spite of Pakistan’s commitments to human rights standards set out in trade agreements with the European Union, with which Pakistan enjoys preferential status.

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “The Pakistani authorities have today executed a man who all the evidence suggested was a child at the time of the alleged offence. The government has therefore committed a shocking breach of Pakistani and international law – and it is shameful that, when Iqbal’s life was at stake, the Supreme Court of Pakistan refused to consider critical evidence of juvenility. Before any more prisoners are sent to the gallows, the international community must condemn Iqbal's execution in the strongest terms, and urge Pakistan to bring this brutal wave of hangings to a halt.”

Source: Reprieve, Sept. 29, 2015

Juvenile Justice

Since Pakistan resumed executions on 19th December 2014, it has emerged that a significant proportion of the individuals currently facing execution were sentenced to death while still children. The execution of juvenile offenders is prohibited by international law, and Pakistan's own law also prohibits the execution of child offenders. Yet, unfortunately for those who now face the gallows, this law remains largely unimplemented.

Authorities are set to hang Ansar Iqbal on the 29th of September, a man who says he was 15 when he was arrested for a murder he claims he did not commit. According to his lawyers, says he and a friend were arrested 16 years ago for the murder of neighbour, which the victim's family said was over an argument at a cricket match. Iqbal says police framed him because he was poor by planting 2 guns at his house. The country's courts have refused to examine Iqbal's school records and birth certificate, the latter for them being dubious as it was only issued in 2015- an argument that seems quite senseless. This latest case only shines a spotlight on Pakistan's crumbling criminal justice system.

In 2008, Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which also prohibits the imposition of the death penalty on anyone who was under 18 at the time of the alleged offence. Again, this has been honoured more in breach, than in compliance.

In the face of a public campaign to save the life of Shafqat Hussain, the first of many child offenders to be told that he would be sent to the gallows (he was just 14 years old when he was arrested and he has always maintained his innocence), his lawyers have claimed that "It is widely recognised and acknowledged that torture by the police in Pakistan is systemic and indeed endemic. The fact that there is credible evidence relating to Shafqat's confession being obtained though torture is a surprise to no one". His case only reaffirms the fact that the criminal justice system has never been kind to the poor or helpless.

Under the guise of terrorism, Pakistan has gladly forgotten about any domestic commandments or international implications of its decisions. 8,000 prisoners on death row are now awaiting execution, with petitions for pardon pouring in. Abdul Basit, a paraplegic man, has been recently sentenced to death, while many others are hanging by a thread, waiting to confront their gruesome destiny. It is then no surprise that juveniles are condemned to the same fate. In most cases, justice is often lost before it is fought, and those without means are on the receiving end of harsh, often undeserved sentences.

Source: The Nation, Editorial, Sept. 28, 2015

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