LAHORE: A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notices to Punjab’s advocate general and prosecutor general on a petition of a juvenile offender who was handed down the death sentence allegedly after being deprived of the benefit of Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO).
In his petition, the convict Muhammad Anwar said he had turned to several forums for drawing their attention towards the JJSO but in vain.
He requested the bench – headed by Justice Mushir Alam, comprising Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Maqbool Baqar – that he be given the benefit under the said ordinance.
Anwar was sentenced to death in 1998 for a crime he had allegedly committed when he was just 17 years old. Following the death sentence, the JJSO – a law prohibiting the death penalty for juvenile offenders – was enacted in 2000.
In 2001, a presidential notification was enacted to extend the benefit of the law to all juvenile offenders, who had been sentenced to death prior to the JJSO, following a determination of age by the Home Department.
However after the notification, the Supreme Court held that the sessions court was the lawful forum for carrying out the inquiry. Anwar’s family submitted an application to the Home Department requesting that he be granted the special remission on the basis of his age.
Although an age determination inquiry was initiated by the Home Department which gathered contemporaneous birth records showing Anwar to have been a juvenile at the time of the offence, this inquiry was never completed.
Since then, Anwar’s family has tried every possible means to request an age determination from the sessions court, submitting no fewer than four applications. In over a decade and a half, however, no forum has ever taken a final decision on this issue.
A report by the Justice Project Pakistan titled ‘Death Row’s Children: Pakistan’s Unlawful Executions of Juvenile Offenders’ launched last week found that Pakistan has failed to undertake inquiries for the determination of age under the presidential notification.
As a result, a significant number of juveniles have been denied the benefit of the presidential notification and therefore executed unlawfully. In December 2015, Anwar came within hours of execution and remains at serious risk of receiving another execution warrant.
Anwar has now spent nearly 19 years on death row. He was arrested in 1993 along with his brothers in the wake of a fight outside his house in which three people had gotten injured. One of the injured had later succumbed to his injuries.
During his 24 years in Vehari jail, Anwar has developed severe heart problems, as a result of which he has been partially paralysed. In 2015, he suffered an attack that led to the loss of movement in the left side of his body, severely compromising his mobility.
Anwar’s birth was registered by his family with the local Union Council just three days after he was born in Dec 1975.
Justice Project Pakistan’s Wassam Waheed who is dealing with this case said Anwar has been denied his rights under the country’s juvenile justice system for too long, without explanation. With Anwar’s case, the lack of retrospective force of the JJSO and the presidential notification is clear for all to see.
“Under the directives of the Honourable Supreme Court, the Government of Pakistan will have to explain why a 17-year-old remained on death row despite the presidential notification," he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2017.