Pakistan has issued execution orders for a man convicted in an anti-terrorism court, despite his being a juvenile at the time of the offence and being tried on the basis of a confession he claims was obtained under torture, his lawyers and family members say.
Shafqat Hussain, 24, is due to be hanged on March 19 in Karachi, where he has been incarcerated since 2004, according to a death warrant issued by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi on Thursday. His execution had earlier been stayed on January 5 by the government, pending re-investigation of his case.
Hussain was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a case involving the kidnapping and murder of a seven-year-old child from an apartment building where he was then employed as a guard.
He was tried by an anti-terrorist court in Karachi as an adult, after police incorrectly stated his age as being 23, and his state-appointed defence lawyer did not challenge the assertion, rights groups say.
Then 14 years old, Hussain maintains his innocence, and says he was forced into a confession after being beaten by police officers for nine days, according to his lawyers and family members.
"When I met my brother, he actually [urinated on] himself," Manzoor Hussain, Shafqat’s elder brother, told Al Jazeera last month, while recalling his meeting with Shafqat for the first time after his arrest.
"His nails had been removed, and he was just saying to me that he was innocent and needed help. They burned cigarettes on him. I saw the marks."
'No reinvestigation or tests’
Earlier, on January 5, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali had issued a stay of execution for Shafqat, saying that the case would be re-investigated, particularly the matter of Shafqat’s age at the time of the trial.
On Thursday, Shafqat met with lawyers and told them that no investigators had spoken to him, and neither had he undergone any government medical tests to ascertain his age.
"No-one from the government has approached him - no-one has gone to the jail to talk to him. And no-one has come to us to find out about his age, either," Manzoor, his brother, told Al Jazeera on Thursday.
An interior ministry spokesperson told Al Jazeera he was not able to confirm the status of the reinvestigation.
Sultana Noon, Amnesty International’s Pakistan researcher, termed the issuance of death warrants on Thursday “a blatant violation of Pakistan's human rights obligations under domestic and international law”.
“Instead of conducting an inquiry into his case, as Pakistan's government promised, authorities have once more brought him to the brink of dying at their hands. His death sentence is a huge stain on Pakistan’s commitment to promote and protect the basic human rights of children,” she told Al Jazeera.
World’s largest death row
Pakistan lifted its moratorium on executions specifically in terrorism cases following the December 16 attack on a Peshawar school which killed 149 people, the worst attack by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters in the country’s history.
On Tuesday, the government fully lifted the moratorium on executions, ordering jail authorities to begin preparing death warrants for convicts in all capital cases.
A statement issued by the Interior Minister’s office after a meeting with British High Commissioner Philip Barton on Wednesday said that maintaining a partial moratorium on executions “would have been discriminatory and against [the] law and the Constitution”.
The minister said that “due process will be followed, in letter and spirit, in ensuring just application of the law”, according to the statement.
Since December, the government has executed 25 people, mostly those who have been convicted by the country’s anti-terrorism courts. The latest execution took place on Thursday morning, of a man convicted of having murdered three people following a theatre performance in 2004.
Pakistan has the world’s largest recorded death row population, according to rights groups, with more than 8,500 people currently awaiting execution.
There are currently 27 crimes that carry the death penalty in Pakistan, including murder, kidnapping, rape, drug trafficking and blasphemy.
The moratorium on executions had been in place since 2008, although courts have continued to sentence convicts to death in capital cases since then.
“It is outrageous that lifting the moratorium means that Pakistan starts executing juveniles as in the case of Shafqat Hussain,” said Sarah Belal, the executive director of rights group Justice Project Pakistan, which is representing the convict.
“In January our Interior Minister promised an inquiry into Shafqat’s juvenility. No inquiry was conducted, nor Shafqat’s family and legal counsel ever contacted to provide evidence of his juvenility. How then has the government decided that it’s now okay to execute Shafqat?”
Manzoor, Shafqat’s brother, meanwhile says that his family is losing hope for a reprieve.
"This is about his age - we are all begging the government to investigate the matter of the age and to reopen the case.