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Saturday July 20, 2024

State of juvenile prisoners on death row in Pakistan highlighted

By Mobarik A Virk
February 18, 2017

Islamabad

Aftab Bahadur was sentenced to death, implicated in a triple murder case when he was a young man of 14 years of age. After languishing in the jail for 24 years he walked to the gallows on June 10, 2015, and was hanged by the neck till the time he was dead at the age of 38 years. 

Outside the gate of the jail was the man, on whose testimony he was declared guilty of the crime, which he never committed, weeping bitterly and crying for mercy, pleading pardon for Aftab Bahadur, shouting that he gave a wrong statement under coercion.

All his wailing failed to prevent a ‘judicial murder’!

This was one of many more such cases we have seen in the history of Pakistan. Not many months ago the Supreme Court declared two persons, real brothers in fact, as innocent of the alleged murder for which they were awarded death sentence. They were acquitted of the crime they allegedly committed and orders were passed for their ‘honourable release’ from jail.

The release orders only got a response from the jail authorities that the two brothers have been hanged to death two years ago!

We have seen the number of executions jump to one of the highest in the world since the government of Pakistan lifted the moratorium on death penalty in the backdrop of the horrifying incident of terrorist strike on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar. However, as the result of lifting of the moratorium we have seen few terrorists being executed while a large number of other convicts have been taken to the gallows, as if the authorities were in too great a hurry to finish the job!

And we saw some juvenile prisoners also meeting the same fate in this execution spree.

The Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) engaged in efforts to restore the moratorium on death penalty, released one of its reports today (Friday) at a local hotel, highlighting the state of juvenile prisoners on death row in Pakistan.

It was a well attended launch and the participants included the members of the Parliament, both from the Lower as well as Upper House, diplomats based in Islamabad and a large number of people from different walks of life.

According to the press release issued by the JPP after the function the report launched on the occasion indicates that the juvenile justice system in Pakistan has failed to protect its juveniles from being sentenced to death. The report documents the fundamental weaknesses in the country’s juvenile justice system including inadequate legislative protections, scant birth registration, and lack of age determination protocols that leads to countless juveniles being sentenced to death and eventually executed.

Speaking on the occasion the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf MNA, Asad Umar stated that "below a certain age, you cannot be held accountable for the decisions that you make." He added that the death penalty has to be exercised with "extreme caution"  given how "deeply flawed Pakistan's criminal justice is."

Commenting on the lack of retrospective force of the Presidential Notification for the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), Mr Umar expressed his "complete shock and horror that a legally binding presidential order is being violated."

The PPP Senator, Mr Farhatullah Babar, while praising the report observed that, the issues highlighted in the report posed an urgent need for to address the low rates of birth registration as well as implementing age determination protocols to protect juvenile offenders. He also called for reducing the number of crimes punishable by death in Pakistan (currently 27). The Member of the Senate Committee on Human Rights said that while Pakistan is a security-driven society, it needs to strive to become a welfare-driven society, as guided by Article 38. Sen. Babar also advised that the findings of the report be shared with parliamentarians to sensitize them to the cause of human rights.

Commissioner, National Commission of Human Rights, Chaudhry Shafique questioned the point of the government ratifying international human rights treaties, if the judiciary was unwilling to implement the obligations contained in them.

Child Rights Commissioner Ms Farzana Bari and the parliamentarian Ms Nafisa Khattak, Shafqat Ali of the Ministry of Human Rights, activist Ms Valerie Khan, Director of Conflict Law Centre at the Research Society for International Law Oves Anwar, founder of SPARC, Mr Anees Jilani also spoke at the launch.

Like 160 countries in the world, Pakistan has enacted legislation, specifically the JJSO, prohibiting the sentencing and imposition of the death penalty against juvenile offenders - persons who commit crimes before turning eighteen years of age.

JPP has analyzed 140 reported cases, since the beginning of the operation of the JJSO in 2000 to 2016, wherein a plea of juvenility had been raised by an accused person. Four different types of evidence were taken into account, including a statement under S. 342 of the Criminal Penal Code, medical evidence, birth certificates and school leaving certificates, noting where judges had placed reliance on each, and where they had rejected each.

The report revealed the executions of Aftab Bahadur, Shafqat Hussain, Ansar Iqbal, Muhammad Sarfraz, Faisal Mehmood and Muhammad Amin – all juveniles at the time of arrest – proves this claim to be blatantly false.

Zafarullah Khan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Law stated at the Pakistan’s fifth periodic review at the UNCRC that “minors were tried under the Special Court Law, separately from majors.” Yet, nearly 17 years after the JJSO was promulgated, the government has failed to install separate juvenile courts.

Ms Sarah Belal, the Executive Director of JPP said that the juvenile justice system does not do our children any good, if it appears to be rigged against the very people it seeks to protect. This report, and its findings underscore the urgent need to pass the pending Juvenile Justice System Bill so fewer minors will face the gallows.