I can’t believe my little brother is going to turn 37 this year. By 37, he should have had children of his own, a home of his own, a job to keep him going.

But he has spent over half of his life in jail.

Iqbal was around 17 years old when the police arrested him, and took him to an unknown location. It was two weeks after that when we finally got to see Iqbal again, in the lock-up of the Kothiala Police Station.

To see anyone in that state is difficult. When it’s your little brother, it can crush you.

He looked so feeble. Swollen feet, bruised and scratched all over. He was always a quiet boy, often bullied at school. His teachers said he was slow. But this was the first time I saw him this silent, in complete surrender.

He whispered to me that they had coerced him into confessing to killing someone. He cried that the torture had been so vicious, he would have said anything to make it stop.

Iqbal and his friends have done something wrong, no doubt. They attempted to rob a van coming back from Duggal Pind. It was dark, and they were teenagers who were looking for an easy target. Poverty can drive you to do that. They had guns for show. None of them knew how to actually use one. So it is no surprise that when the people in the car resisted, these teenage boys panicked and fired the gun. Rasheed, father of 5, died when a bullet ricocheted off of the steering wheel and killed him.

At that time, we didn’t even know if we had to hire a lawyer. We aren’t literate people. We were in trouble because of the political pressure on the police to find the culprit, and we had no knowledge that one could hire a lawyer for the police station too.

Bills have a way of piling up, whether it’s legal fees or simply the commute of going back and forth between courts and the police station. And in our effort to ply through them, to save Iqbal’s life, we lost all that we had. Our home got destroyed and we have nothing left. Nothing to get our children educated with, or to sustain our lives with. My children couldn’t go to school because of our poverty and because of all the money we had to spend on this case.

Our father also died of grief after years of struggling with Iqbal’s case.

When the case was heard in Gujranwala, four of the five teenagers were sentenced to ten years each. They have all served these out, and have since come back to their homes and families.

But, Iqbal was sentenced to death, and twenty years of imprisonment. 17 years old, and condemned to hang. The police wrote in the FIR and the testimonies that he was the one who fired the shots, and that’s why he was given a higher sentence. Our lawyer had argued in court that Iqbal was a juvenile and should not be sentenced to death. Then the court had ordered a medical board which reported that Iqbal’s age was between 16 and 17-and-a-half at the time of occurrence, and all the courts also accepted that his age was below 18. But to no avail.

From the Anti Terrorism Court, all the way to the Supreme Court, his age at the time of the crime was ignored. In a panic, convinced I was going to lose my brother, I reached out to the victim’s son. My desperation overcame any hubris I had.

Waheed was livid that I had the audacity to ask him to forgive who he thought was his father’s killer.

But I went again. And again. His anger slowly chipped away.

And one day, in his infinite generosity, he told me – that God has punished Iqbal. He said, “Allah teaches us to forgive our enemies,” and that is what he has done.

We took news of this compromise to the Supreme Court. But even after listening to the heir’s statement, the court did not release my brother. It upheld the decision. The court said that this offence under 396 was non-compoundable, and that they could not accept the certificate of compromise.

At 37, Iqbal understands life in jail better than he would outside it. My little brother remains on death row, when the law wouldn’t keep him there and the victim’s family wouldn’t keep him there. So why does he continue to live in constant fear of dying?

In 2017, requests for Iqbal’s execution were forwarded by Gujrat jail. Due to the intervention of Justice Project Pakistan and the National Commission on Human Rights, Iqbal remains alive today. Under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, Iqbal’s minority would make his execution wrongful. The NCHR directed the Home Department to conduct an inquiry in July 2016. This has still not happened.