Juvenile offender

Published July 5, 2017

JUSTICE must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. And when technicality sends a juvenile offender to death, the demands of justice are defeated. Muhammad Iqbal was only 17 years old when he was convicted of a fatal shooting in Mandi Bahauddin in 1999. Although an ossification test confirmed he was a minor, this was before the passage of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, 2000, which prohibits execution of a juvenile, and the court handed down the death penalty. Iqbal’s sentence was upheld by the Lahore High Court in 2002 and his appeal to the Supreme Court dismissed later that year. The Justice Project Pakistan, which provides legal representation to vulnerable prisoners, has pointed out that after Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, the president issued a notification granting remission to juvenile offenders awarded capital punishment. Despite this, Iqbal not only remained in prison, his mercy petition was also rejected last year. Gujrat Jail authorities have now requested the LHC to issue his ‘black warrant’ that would pave the way for him to be sent to the gallows.

Iqbal has already spent over half his life behind bars although he should have benefited from the president’s notification of remission for juveniles on death row. The state should pardon him without delay. Two years ago, Pakistan had a similar choice to make — hang an individual who had been a minor when he committed his offence, or extend clemency to him on the basis of international obligations, not to mention the JJSO that was passed some years later. The state opted for a heartless adherence to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. That was the case of Aftab Masih, who was executed although he was only 15 years old at the time of the crime, and despite the fact his conviction was the result of an extremely dubious investigation. At the time, when the war against terrorism was in full cry, the state was keen to demonstrate its ‘writ’ by ruthlessly sending scores of death-row prisoners to the gallows, most of them convicted for reasons other than terrorism. To prevent another minor from being hanged, the National Commission on Human Rights has intervened in Iqbal’s case. For the sake of its standing in the comity of civilised nations, Pakistan must not repeat this travesty of justice.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2017

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