[18 December 2014] - A torture victim convicted of involuntary manslaughter at just 15 years old will be among the first prisoners to be hanged in Pakistan this week, research from Reprieve and Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) has revealed, despite the Government’s pledge that those executed would be “terrorists” and those convicted of “heinous acts”.
Following Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s announcement yesterday that executions would resume in Pakistan, the names of six prisoners in Sindh for whom “black warrants” – execution warrants – have been issued have now been announced. Among the six is Shafqat Hussain, who was arrested in 2004 when he was 15 years old.
Mr Hussain was charged with the kidnap and murder of another local child and convicted on the strength of one piece of evidence: a forced confession made after nine days of police torture. When his case was reviewed by the Sindh High Court his conviction for murder was quashed and replaced with a conviction for involuntary manslaughter – accidentally causing death.
Reprieve and Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), who are representing Mr Hussain, have raised strong concerns about the fairness of his trial in Pakistan’s notorious Anti-Terrorism Courts. The organisations’ joint report Terror on Death Row reveals how Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, the legislation governing the courts, is routinely overused; for example, in the province of Sindh, home to Pakistan’s most populous city, 40 percent of all prisoners were tried as “terrorists”. In more than 80 percent of the cases analysed by JPP and Reprieve, however, there was no link to anything that could reasonably be defined as terrorism.
The decision to lift Pakistan’s six-year moratorium on executions was announced yesterday as part of the Government’s response to the school shooting that took place in Peshawar this week. Following the attack, Prime Minister Sharif said a strong response was needed to combat the “existential threat” posed by terrorism, and announced that the first people to be executed would be “terrorists” and those convicted of the most “heinous acts”.
Pakistan has the world’s largest death row, with over 8,000 people currently awaiting execution.
Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said: “It is crystal clear that Shafqat Hussain is simply not a terrorist. The events in Peshawar this week were absolutely tragic – but the execution of Shafqat and others like him, whose crimes bear no relation to terrorism, will do nothing to serve the Government’s stated aims of preventing further such attacks. Instead, the rush to start executing risks permitting huge miscarriages of justice to take place, including the executions of innocent people. The international community must do all it can to stop this knee-jerk reaction which will fundamentally undermine Pakistan’s criminal justice system without making the country safer.”