Pakistan hangs Shafqat Hussain despite claim he was a child at time of crime

Karachi (Neo Web Desk)Pakistan has hanged a man whose execution was repeatedly postponed amid international pressure over claims that he was a child at the time he murdered a boy more than a decade ago.

Shafqat Hussain was executed at 4.30am in the central jail in the southern city of Karachi after winning four last-minute reprieves in recent months.

He was sentenced in 2004 by an anti-terrorism court for kidnapping and killing a seven-year-old boy who had gone missing from an apartment building in Karachi, where Hussain worked as a watchman.

The hanging took place despite last-minute attempts to spare him, including a request by the Sindh Human Rights Commission, a statutory body, for a supreme court inquiry into an affair that has already been reviewed by the country’s top court.

Central to the campaign by human rights groups was the claim Hussain was just 14 at the time of the alleged crime, and therefore ineligible for execution under Pakistani law.

His lawyers also argued Hussain was tortured by police into making a confession.

“Pakistan authorities have never undertaken a proper, judicial investigation into either issue,” the rights group Justice Project Pakistan said in a statement after Hussain’s execution.

“Instead seizing and refusing to release key evidence such as Shafqat’s school record, which could have provided proof that he was under 18 when he was sentenced to death.”

The police have insisted Hussain was, in fact, 23 when he was arrested.

Despite the vigorous campaign to spare Hussain, which received backing from United Nations experts, some lawyers who have reviewed the case have remained unconvinced.

“There is no evidence that he was under age,” said Chaudhry Faisal Hussain, a prominent lawyer. He pointed out the plea for an investigation into Hussain’s age was dismissed by Islamabad high Court judge Athar Minallah, one of the country’s most respected legal figures.

“This case has been needlessly lingered by civil society who want to create a parallel judicial system by creating media trials. Unfortunately, people tend to believe what the media says.”

Pakistan has seen a spree of executions following the lifting of a death penalty moratorium last year in the aftermath of the attack in December by Taliban militants on a school in Peshawar that killed more than 130 school boys.

Last week the European Union expressed its concerns about the “alarming pace” of executions, with more than 190 convicts hanged since December, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

“This is another deeply sad day for Pakistan, said David Griffiths from rights group Amnesty International. “A man whose age remains disputed and whose conviction was built around torture has now paid with his life – and for a crime for which the death penalty cannot be imposed under international law.”

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