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Another Last-Minute Stay of Execution for Pakistani Prisoner Sentenced as a Juvenile

Shafqat Hussain is thought to have been 14 when he was sentenced to death in an anti-terror court, though he later claimed to have been tortured into a confession.
Photo by Mohammad Zubair Khan

A Pakistani man believed to have been sentenced as a juvenile received a last-minute stay on his hanging on Tuesday.

Shafqat Hussain — who rights activists believe was just 14 when he was condemned to death for an alleged murder — was scheduled to be executed at 4.30am Pakistan time. This marks the fourth time his execution has been called off, giving Pakistan's Supreme Court time to consider an appeal.


On Monday afternoon, about 25 protesters followed a last-minute call to gather outside the Pakistani High Commission in central London, where they delivered a mercy petition. Many of the attendees told VICE News that they had followed the case closely and came to demonstrate their dissent.

Related: Family of Pakistani Prisoner Convicted at 14 Plead Against Execution as Final Appeal Fails

Clive Stafford Smith, director of legal non-profit Reprieve, with the mercy petition

In 2004, an anti-terror court gave Hussain the death penalty, but the reality of the sentence became much more pressing when Pakistan's moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in the wake of December's school massacre in Peshawar— in which 145 people, including 132 children, were brutally murdered. Since then, nearly 135 prisoners are estimated to have been executed by the state, according to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Hussain was first arrested in Karachi more than a decade ago on suspicion of abducting and murdering a seven-year-old named Umair, whose body was later discovered in a plastic bag in a local stream. After an initial confession, Hussain later withdrew his statement, saying it had been produced under police pressure following days of torture, which included suspension, electrocution, beatings, and sleep deprivation.

In March, VICE News visited Hussain's family in a rural area near Muzaffarabad, northern Pakistan. His brother, Manzore Hussain, said that he had only managed to visit Hussain in jail once, in 2010.


"I asked him why he had committed such a horrible crime, but he refused to discuss it, only telling me that he did not do anything wrong," Manzore said. "Then I asked him why he confessed, he told me that it was due to 'brutal police torture.'"

"When Shafqat talked about the police torture, he suddenly pissed his pants," he added.

"We are poor, so my brother is going to hang," Manzore said. "But if my brother belonged to an influential family, he wouldn't be hanged. Now I understand why people become terrorists, there's only one reason and it's a lack of justice."

Makhni Begum, Hussain's mother, said she has only been able to visit her imprisoned son once — in 2005.

"Why is [the] government in a hurry to hang an innocent person?" she asked. "I plead to the 17 judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Your duty is to satisfy justice requirements. Why are you people blind, why? My son had to bear a lot of injustice, torture in his life, now give him justice."

Related: Pakistan's Death Row Prisoners Face Broad 'Terrorism' Charges, Harrowing Conditions, and a Crumbling Justice System

Clive Stafford-Smith, the director of legal non-profit Reprieve, joined the group gathered outside the Pakistani embassy on Monday. He told VICE News that this case really emphasized how flawed Pakistan's legal process is. "All our prognostications about how the system is broken are true," he said.

"It's always true that capital punishment means those without the capital get the punishment, and that's the way it works," he added. "You don't notice many rich people on death row."


Stafford-Smith said that torture is systemic in Pakistan.

"And who does that do any good for? You torture the innocent person into confessing and then the guilty person goes free. Why won't Pakistan confront this and have a proper investigation?"

Hussain's lawyers have been stopped from entering Karachi Central Jail — the prison he is being held in — and while the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan sent Hussain's legal representatives an order scheduling a hearing for 10am local time on Tuesday, there was no accompanying stay given for his execution — scheduled to take place five hours earlier.

Continuous stays on an execution are a form of torture in itself, Stafford-Smith said, but added that "a reprieve is better than no reprieve."

"When you think about the torture of the death penalty: The idea that you set a date for someone to die, let them get within 24 hours four times, that's just torture," he said. "But we asked Shafqat do you want to just give up on this, and he said 'no.'"

Clare Algar, executive director of Reprieve, bringing the petition to the door of the High Commission

The mercy petition given in to the London embassy was a copy, with the original having been submitted to Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain on June 2. A petition was also submitted calling for a stay on the execution of Aftab Bahadur Masih, another death row inhabitant, who is now 38, but believed to have been 15 when he was sentenced to death.

"He too was tortured," Stafford-Smith told VICE News.


The Walking Dead actor David Morrissey joined to add his support to petitions — reading aloud some of Masih's reflections from his two decades on death row.

Masih's execution is scheduled for Wednesday.

Actor David Morrissey reading aloud some of Aftab Bahadur Masih's reflections from his two decades on death row

Natalie Bennett, the leader of the UK Green Party, also encouraged Londoners to protest.

Today — Natalie Bennett (@natalieben)June 8, 2015

Related: Pakistan Lifting the Death Penalty Moratorium for 'Terrorists' Might Backfire

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd