Convict set free after spending 21 years on death row

Published July 1, 2020
Iqbal was only 17 years old in 1998 when he was arrested and consequently sentenced to death a year later. — Dawn archives
Iqbal was only 17 years old in 1998 when he was arrested and consequently sentenced to death a year later. — Dawn archives

KARACHI: Muhammad Iqbal, who spent the last 21 years on death row for a crime he was convicted of committing when he was a juvenile, has been released, according to the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP).

The JPP is a non-profit, human rights law firm that provides pro-bono legal advice, representation and investigative services to the most vulnerable prisoners facing the harshest punishments.

Iqbal was only 17 years old in 1998 when he was arrested and consequently sentenced to death a year later, the advocacy group said in a statement issued on his release.

In 2000, Pakistan passed the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), making it illegal for juveniles to be handed the death sentence.

A presidential notification of 2001 subsequently provided remission to all juveniles sentenced prior to the ordinance. However, Iqbal continued to languish on death row despite his proven juvenility, the JPP said.

A letter, it added, was written by the Punjab government to the Lahore High Court in 2003, listing Iqbal as one of the prisoners entitled to remission.

Several human rights groups and United Nations special rapporteurs sent a letter to the Pakistani government in March seeking leniency, asking that Iqbal’s death sentence be commuted. The letter stated that he was charged with murder and robbery when he was just 17.

“Two decades later, the Lahore High Court had finally acknowledged that Iqbal was wronged and did not deserve to be on death row,” it said.

His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in February 2020 and Iqbal was released from jail on June 30, 2020, after it was established that he has already served a life term.

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2020

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