I could never think of my younger brother as an adult. He was always the baby of the family. Today, I am told that he has children the same age as me when I was first put in jail 20 years ago.
I should have had children of my own by now. I should have had a life, a job, a family, a home. A small one, in Mandi Bahauddin. If my family did not have to sell off our land to keep me alive, perhaps there could have been more.
It is difficult to recount the things you could have had when you know there is a dim possibility of you ever getting them in the future.
I have been in jail since 1999, and on death row since I was 17.
I was not good at school. I could never follow instructions properly, and my teachers did not have the resources to dedicate the kind of attention I needed. Frustration gave way to idleness, idleness gave way to mischief.
My inability in school made me the butt of jokes but to save myself from being bullied, I found some people willing to accept me.
My friends and I would then skip off, and waste our time doing things that would make us feel like we were in control. That is what you do when you feel useless.
I was arrested a month later and taken to a secret location.
When we arrived, they tied my hands behind my back with a rope that was hung from a hook on the roof. They hoisted me up from my wrists. It felt like my shoulders were being ripped out from their sockets. That pain is blinding, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
When they undid the ropes, I thought they were done. But soon after they had put me on the ground, they forced me on my back and placed a long, thick bamboo rod on top of me.
Before I could even take my next breath, two police officers sat either side of the rod, weighing it down, as two other officers rolled it down my body.
I screamed through the excruciating pain. It did not matter. It’s like they’re trying to crush you into the ground and won’t stop until they do.
I lost track of how long this went on for.
My elder brother, Abbas, tells me he looked for me for two whole weeks. For half a month, I was detained without charge and tortured relentlessly. I would have said anything to make it stop.
If they told me to say I had killed someone, I would say it. If they told me to say I had not killed someone, I would say it.
They finally took me to a jail, and kept me there. Eventually, I was hauled into the police station for an identification parade. But this was not the first time that the victim’s family had seen me. I was trotted out before them several times before the parade. I knew they recognised me.
The investigation officer had approached Abbas, telling him that if he did not pay him a bribe, he would ensure that I would be tried in the Anti-Terrorism Court that all but guaranteed me a harsher sentence with fewer safeguards.
We had no idea what we were up against. We could not pay, and so I landed in the ATC.
The ATC sentenced me to die. They recognised I was 17. But this did not, to them, excuse me from the death penalty because they were no laws that would bar the sentencing of a juvenile.
The police wrote in the First Information Report and their testimonies that I was the one who fired the shots (a lie), and that’s why I should be given a higher sentence.
The five others who were co-accused with me for the same crime were given prison sentences (which they have now served and have returned to their families since).
I was the only one who was sentenced to death.
My lawyer argued in court that I was a juvenile and should not be sentenced to death. The court ordered a medical board, which in turn, carried out an ossification test that determined my age to be 17. But this evidence did not matter.
From the ATC, all the way to the Supreme Court, my age at the time of the crime was acknowledged — but then ignored.
In March 2016, they issued my execution warrant. In a panic, my brother reached out to the victim’s son. His desperation overcame any hubris he had.
Abbas went again. And again.The complainant’s anger slowly chipped away.
And one day, in his infinite generosity, he told my brother — that God has punished me. He said, “Allah teaches us to forgive our enemies,” and that is what he has done.
We took news of this compromise to the SC to stop my imminent execution. But even after listening to the heir’s statement, the court did not release me. It upheld the decision. Why?
Because my case had been tried under the ATA, which means my alleged offence was non-compoundable. My fate had been sealed by the bribe we could not pay years and years ago.
In July last year, they forwarded the request to issue my execution warrants again. By a miracle, through the intervention of Justice Project Pakistan and the National Commission on Human Rights, that request was withdrawn.
Being told you will die does not get easier the second time.
The journey through the country’s courts has been long, expensive and back-breaking for my family. Legal fees, commuting back and forth between court, home and the police station, caused us to lose everything we had. Our home was destroyed and we have nothing left.
My father died of grief after years of struggling with my case. I was not able to go to his funeral.
Whole lives have been lived and lost during my time in jail.
When the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance was passed in 2000, the president announced amnesty for all juvenile offenders on death row one year later.
Here I was, a proven juvenile but somehow unable to access the relief that I was entitled to and have been entitled to for 17 years.
Since then, they keep bouncing me from the sessions courts to the Presidency to the Home Department. They know they cannot execute me but they treat me like a file, not a human being.
A life sentence in Pakistan is 25 years. Most prisoners are out in 15. I have served 20 years in jail, and all the while, I was entitled to a remission. I could have been out, putting my life back together. But all I do is wait.
They concluded the age determination inquiry only this year. But I’m still waiting, lost for 20 years in the black hole of Pakistan’s bureaucracy.
Muhammad Iqbal told this story from his prison cell in District Jail, Gujrat to Muhammad Shoaib, who wrote it in the form of an article.
In March 2018, the Lahore High Court directed the provincial Home Department to conduct and conclude the investigation into Iqbal’s case within two weeks.
While this took place within the deadline, and the inquiry found him to be a juvenile at the time of the crime, the government of Pakistan is yet to provide him the relief that he has been entitled to for 17 years.