Let me begin with thanking the federal Minister for Interior and Parliamentary Secretary of his Ministry for heeding civil society’s demand of issuing suspension order for the execution of Shafqat Hussain, a convict on death row. Special thanks are due to the Sindh Home Minister Sharjeel Memon and PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman, who had been instrumental in getting it done. There is slightly more to the story.

After the suspension order on the night of March 18, when the execution was postponed for 72 hours, there started a malicious campaign against not only Shafqat Hussain, but against all those who had ever raised their voice for him. Lamentable is the fact that despite the Interior Minster supporting the cause of juvenile justice and right to fair trial, someone from his ministry, has made this case an issue of his ego. The half-truths and cherry-picked facts from the case file and jail record were leaked to a section of media that was already against Shafqat since the beginning for reasons best known to them. This happened a few hours after the officials from the Interior Ministry visited the jail in Karachi where Shafqat was kept.

Here the Prime Minister and all the members of the Cabinet, let alone the Interior Minister, might be reminded that the civil society that is being maligned through this section of media had been supportive of democracy throughout those 126 days of revolution. On the other hand, the section of media someone in the Interior Ministry is relying on, has been hurling the dirtiest abuses onto the democratic system and those representing people in the elected Houses. The democratically elected representatives – who we shall always support, come what may – might like to wisely determine who their friend is and who is their foe.

Looking at the deliberately and selectively leaked information, the Interior Ministry officials have proven that someone powerful in the ministry doesn’t want an impartial inquiry. After the Minister had agreed to the investigation, there was little need for the officials to leak the ‘findings’ of the initial inquiry. These kinds of leaks do little in favour of transparency and objectivity of the investigation process.

After the emergence of contradictory information about Shafqat’s juvenility at the time of the crime, our argument has proven correct that reasonable doubt exists about this case, which is the single most potent argument for the postponement of the execution. In my last article on these pages I had submitted: “Even if there is one percent of doubt in a case, that has to exhaust all possibility of further investigation”. Last week’s drill of the Interior Ministry with the help of elements in media has proven that the doubt is fairly above ‘one percent’. Considering which, the decision made by the Interior Minister for instituting inquiry was correct and based on principles of justice. We not only acknowledge the Minister for his conscientious decision, but also support him fully for an impartial and objective investigation into the matter.

About the malicious campaigning by a couple of media persons, the lesser said the better. The one spewing most ferocious venom against ‘NGOs’ is reportedly running an NGO himself with his wife. The other ‘investigative’ journalist has been on record being extremely partial against all liberal voices and progressive sections of civil society. The front page ‘views’ (as oppose to news) item in a national daily newspaper by a so-called investigative journalist was full of ad hominem, sweeping judgmental statements and lack of objectivity. In their rage they appear to completely forget that everyone raising voice (including yours truly) was not on the payroll of any ‘NGO’.

The entire campaign rests on a few tips leaked by Interior Ministry officials (who are not named by these media reports) including allegations of the birth certificate submitted by Shafqat’s family being a fake document and disputing the claims of Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), the voluntary organization providing pro bono legal services to Shafqat, about his juvenility based on his pictures the veracity of which is not known. On this inadequate edifice, they built the entire thing about the ‘lost credibility of NGOs’ and how these NGOs were getting money from foreign enemies to malign Pakistan as a country that executes juveniles. If indeed the birth certificate was forged the Interior Ministry better institute an inquiry against the government officials who issued it.

It was but a relief to know that even the elements of the media who go berserk at the mere mention of Malala were actually feeling embarrassed by the thought of executing juveniles. If juvenile executions bring dishonor to a country as they have been regurgitating throughout this weekend, what is so wrong in saving our country from possibly doing it? If there was even a thinnest chance of Shafqat being juvenile, as is purported by the legal counsels of Shafqat and JPP, what is the harm in a transparent investigation in compliance with Istanbul Protocol?

In TV and newspapers reports as well as the Facebook posts (yes they have been at it with some kind of obsession) they have been pressing the government to stop medical tests and all investigation into the matter. The question is if they are so certain about the ‘evidence’ they have produced, why fear a medical test, which is only going to prove their claim of his age? If you are confident of the veracity of ‘evidence’ you are producing, you should be ready for any kind of further examination without any fear.

That reminds me of the Ministry officials who have been allegedly trying to threaten and silence the family of the convict as well as anyone in the village who might testify about his age. The Minister might like to take full charge of the things and initiate inquiry about who these elements are and why they are trying to obliterate the process of justice which has been consented to by not only the Minister himself but also by the Prime Minister and the President.

Moreover, considering the fact that not everyone in the Interior Ministry appears to be on the same page as the honourable Minister, it is pertinent to suggest that the responsibility for the investigation may be transferred to the Sindh Home Ministry. This seems more logical and sensible considering the provincial jurisdiction of the jail Shafqat is kept in.

Moreover, it is not just the age that has been questioned. As per JPP, the entire trial proceedings were tainted by several factors. On one hand the convict had an inadequate counsel, on the other he was allegedly tortured in police custody in order to extract confession from him based on which he was later convicted.

If that is the case, it is all the more necessary that a thorough inquiry into the entire trial proceedings be ordered instead of hurrying to execute someone without one hundred percent surety of his alleged crime. A few more months of investigation are surely not a bar on the system of justice. An execution without exhausting all avenues of proving the crime or the innocence would certainly be a bar bigger than anyone’s ego.