It was inevitable; the day the government completely lifted the moratorium on the death penalty, it became only a matter of time before an innocent man would be sent to the gallows. In this case, it is an innocent boy. The Interior Ministry under Chaudry Nisar has proven itself a dishonest department at worst and an incompetent one at best. Despite being presented with sound legal arguments backed by evidence and pressurised by an international campaign trying to save Shafqat Hussain , the Interior Ministry is ploughing forward with the execution. More than justice or policy, it seems like this execution has become a point of personal pride for the minister, who has been encircled by critics after the ministry – especially the Federal Investigation Agency – faced embarrassment in several high profile cases.
The facts of the case itself are simple, and the story as old as the country itself. Shafqat Hussain , an immigrant from Kashmir to Karachi, worked as a security guard at an apartment building where a 7-year old boy was kidnapped. The police, who had unsurprisingly failed to apprehend the culprit, needed somebody, anybody, to pin the blame on, and the 14 year old Shafqat fit the bill perfectly. A boy from a distant part of the country, with no family support or political patronage is an easy target. Breaking countless international conventions and national laws he was brutally tortured – the marks of which he bears to this day – and on the basis of that forced confession alone he was sentenced to death by an Anti-Terrorism court. If not during the trial itself, the gross injustice of the incident should be evident to the government now. A 14 year old is a juvenile and cannot be sentenced to death under any circumstances. He was convicted on the basis of a forced confession, not a single piece of corroborating evidence was presented. The state appointed lawyer did not care the slightest for his charge, not only did he fail to raise Shafqat’s age as an issue he did not present a single piece of evidence or call a single witness. To top it all off, he was tried in an Anti-Terrorism court and not under the Pakistan Penal Code.
The fact that this case eluded judicial and bureaucratic oversight to make it to the hangman’s noose is a travesty in itself; if such black and white cases are overlooked how can we trust our judicial system with the more ambivalent ones? Much more disturbing is the government’s behaviour after the issue has been bought to their notice. Chaudry Nisar halted the execution and promised an inquiry, and then went back on his word without batting an eyelid. Ignoring the torture and other legal irregularities, he claims that the age of the accused at the time of the trial cannot be ascertained, so the execution will go ahead. Now Shafqat’s mother has presented the government with a birth certificate and the minister is running out of excuses. If Shafqat Hussain is executed today, it will be judicial murder, and the government will not be allowed to get away with it this time.