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

VICE News spoke to the family of Shafqat Hussain, who is scheduled to hang on Thursday. He was just 14 when he was sentenced to death and his 'confession' was allegedly extracted through days of torture.

by Mohammad Zubair Khan and Sally Hayden
Mar 17 2015, 6:11pm

Photo by Mohammad Zubair Khan

Shafqat Hussain, who was just 14 when he was first sentenced to death in Pakistan in 2004, had a final appeal against his execution denied today, in a case described by the human rights organization Reprieve as "morally abhorrent."

In emotional interviews with VICE News, members of his family vehemently protested his innocence. Following the rejection of Hussain's appeal, however, he is now scheduled to be hanged on Thursday.

Hussain's case has created controversy over the question of whether he was 14 when he was convicted and whether he was subjected to police torture in order to extract a "confession," on accusations of kidnapping and killing a seven-old-boy. VICE News has obtained a copy of Hussain's birth certificate. 

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, Pakistan executed 12 other inmates convicted by anti-terrorism courts, the most killed on a single day since the country ended a moratorium on the death penalty following the Peshawar school massacre in December 2014.

On March 12, an anti-terrorism court issued the final order for Hussain's execution. He was first arrested in Karachi on suspicion of abducting and murdering a seven-year-old called Umair. The younger boy's body was later discovered in a plastic bag in a local stream. Hussain initially confessed, but later withdrew this statement, saying he had made it under police pressure and after days of torture. 

After he was sentenced to death by an anti-terror court in 2004, several appeals were rejected by the Sindh High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. After today's most recent attempt to stop the execution, local media outlets reported that the Sindh High Court ruled they could not entertain any plea filed against the anti-terror court's decision.

At the time of Umair's disappearance, Hussain was working as a security guard in Karachi. A few days after the boy was taken his family received calls apparently from Hussain's mobile phone demanding a ransom of half a million rupees ($8,500 at the time), according to legal documents.

Shafqat Hussain's father and sister. Photo by Mohammad Zubair Khan. 

Hussain's case has caused uproar among human rights activists, who claim it highlights huge flaws in Pakistan's justice system. Speaking on Monday, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve's death penalty team, said: "The execution of anyone convicted when they were just a child is illegal, not to mention morally abhorrent. Shafqat's innocence, and the fact that his 'confession' was extracted after nine days of brutal police torture, make the Pakistani government's attempts to kill this young man even more horrendous."

Foa added: [Pakistan Interior Minster] Nisar Ali Khan promised an inquiry into Shafqat's conviction because he knows that it was wrong to begin with — it is a shocking abuse of office that he has reneged on this commitment. Shafqat's execution — and all others — must be halted so that the inquiry that was so rightly promised can go ahead. If it does not, it will show exactly how much weight the rule of law now carries in Pakistan."

After December's Peshawar school killings, during which over 140 children were murdered, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that terrorists must be punished in an emotional address. Though the state initially announced they would only execute those convicted of terrorism charges, Reprieve have noted that as many as 88 percent of the cases tried in anti-terrorism courts have "no link to anything reasonably defined as terrorism."

Related: "We saw our sister's body. It was her first day in school': Survivors tell of horrors of Peshawar massacre. Read more here.

At least 800 of the inmates on death row in the country have been found guilty of terrorism offences, and there are currently over 17,000 pending terrorism cases. When a case is taken against an individual under the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act, certain rights are suspended, such as the right to be present during the trial. The use of torture to extract confessions may also be overlooked, according to Reprieve's research.

Shafqat Hussain's sister. Photo by Mohammad Zubair Khan. 

Hussein was moved to solitary confinement on March 14, according to his brother Gul Zaman, who spoke to VICE News on Sunday after visiting him in Karachi's central prison.

Zaman said that Hussein was still feeling positive. "He believes that he is innocent and he will not hang. He believes that a miracle will happen and he will be released from jail," Zaman said, adding that his brother was spending a lot of time reciting from the Quran and praying.

He added: "Shafqat is very disappointed by the behavior, attitude, reaction of Minister Khan. He promised with the whole nation that a fresh inquiry will be conducted, a DNA test would be held for age confirmation, and I would be reproduced in front of the inquiry committee but nothing has happened and again a death warrant is issued without fulfilling his promise."

'When Shafqat talked about the police torture he suddenly pissed his pants.'

On Tuesday, the minister told Pakistan's National Assembly that Hussain's execution should not be "politicized," and that Pakistani president Mamnoon Hussain had also dismissed an appeal for mercy.

Zaman told VICE News that during his last conversation with Hussein, the condemned man had remarked that if he is hanged then it will be "government oppression, and injustice, and they will answer for it, if not in this world then in the other world."

While they spoke, Hussein also inquired about his father, mother, and sisters, and expressed how much he wishes to see them again, though Zaman said that the rest of the family can't afford to travel to see him.

Abdul Hameed, another of Hussein's brothers, spoke to VICE News in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Hameed said that he had rushed there after hearing that his brother's death warrant had been issued. Once he reached the city, he attempted to meet with Minister Khan but said that "no one allowed me even to go near the Interior Ministry."

Hameed told VICE News that he strongly believed that "an innocent person's life is under threat." He said that he didn't understand why the case had been rushed, adding that the "rulers have no time to order an inquiry and fulfil the justice requirements."

A view of Shafqat Hussain's family home. Photo by Mohammad Zubair Khan.

When VICE News visited the Hussain family house near Muzaffarabad, northern Pakistan, another brother, Manzore Hussain, was at home.

"There was a time when we lived happily but we had an unfortunate start when our father had a stroke and became paralyzed," Manzore recalled of the family's early life. "Our father was a farmer and all my brothers and sisters were busy in education in the local school. After his paralysis all our agricultural lands and cattle were sold for his treatment. The situation got worse. All my brothers left the school and started doing daily labor."

Manzore said that Hussain became dissatisfied with this state of affairs and left the family home to travel to Karachi, where he hoped to find work. "We had few resources so we could not trace him," Manzore added. "After some time we heard from people from our area who are in Karachi that Shafqat was in jail, and later we discovered that he was convicted."

Manzore added that he has only managed to visit his brother 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. Then I asked him why he confessed, he told me that it was due to 'brutal police torture.'"

'We are poor so my brother is going to hang, but if my brother belonged to an influential family he wouldn't be hanged.'

Pakistani non-profit law firm Justice Project Pakistan, who have been working on Hussain's case, claim that he was tortured for nine days before he confessed. This treatment, they say, included blindfolding, solitary confinement, beatings, electrocution, and being burned with cigarette butts.

Manzore told VICE News that he was personally convinced of his brother's statement as, "when Shafqat talked about the police torture he suddenly pissed his pants."

To visit the prison and be allowed time with his brother, Manzore claimed that he had to pay a bribe of 500 Pakistani rupees ($5). For this, he said, they were only given 15 minutes together. "I requested them to allow me more time but for that they want more and I am unable to pay more."

Manzore continued: "We are poor so my brother is going to hang, 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."

Related: Pakistan paramilitary force raids headquarters of major political party. Read more here.

Shafqat Hussain's brother Manzore with a photo of Shafqat. Photo by Mohammad Zubair Khan. 

Samara — Hussein's sister — is two years older than him. While talking to VICE News she began to weep and tears streamed down her face.

"For Allah do not hang my brother, I believe that he is innocent," she pleaded. "I beg Prime Minister Sharif at least fulfil the promise of another inquiry. If an innocent was hanged then how will you answer to Allah in the other world?"

Samara continued: "I want to make a plea that every Pakistani, and human rights campaigners in the world play a role to save my brother."

Makhni Begum, Hussain's mother, told VICE News that she had last seen her incarcerated son in 2005. "I borrowed money for travel and now I am even unable to make a last meeting with him before execution," she said. "In my last meeting with him in jail he tried to kiss me, but was unable to due to the jail netting."

'The issue of juvenility was never raised during the trial or appeals and that is mainly a result of not having a lawyer.'

Begum began wailing and asked: "Why does [Minister] Khan forget his promise, does he not know the value of a promise? And why is government in a hurry to hang an innocent person? 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."

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a senior lawyer and human rights activist from Rights Advocacy, told VICE News: "The law of the land is that a juvenile cannot be given the death sentence but Shafqat was not made aware of this law, and the police and prosecution always put his age as an adult. He was too poor to get a lawyer so he was given a government-funded lawyer who never did his job, so issue of his juvenility was never raised during the trial or appeals and that is mainly [a result of] not having a lawyer."

"The fact and evidence of his juvenility came out after he had exhausted all remedies," Akbar added. "The problem in Shafqat's case is a lack of due process, during his trial he was never given due process and now before his execution the government has once again negated his right to fair trial and due process by not making him part of the process to determine his age."

Follow Mohammad Zubair Khan on Twitter: @HazaraZubair

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd