The National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) has called for authorities to abstain from issuing execution warrants against Muhammad Iqbal – a juvenile offender convicted in a murder case.
Earlier, the authorities concerned had forwarded requests to issue a 'black warrant' under Iqbal 's name to the Lahore High Court (LHC) on June 30.
Iqbal was just a 17-year-old when he was convicted of a fatal shooting in Mandi Bahauddin, Punjab in 1999. The prosecution requested an ossification test, the results of which confirmed that he was a juvenile. This was recognised by a trial court, and the judgement stated: "The ages of the accused ... at the time of the occurrence appears to be less than 18 years."
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According to the statement, Iqbal's death sentence was upheld by the LHC on March 20, 2002 and subsequently his appeal was also dismissed by the Supreme Court on September 11 of the same year. Both the courts realised that he was a juvenile at the time of the crime, which made Iqbal's execution an even more brazen violation of Pakistan's domestic and international legal commitments.
A complaint has been launched on Iqbal's behalf by the Justice Project Pakistan on June 23 before the NCHR, which held an urgent inquiry into the matter on Tuesday. Officials from the Home Department and the Prison Department were present as well, and a Letter of Proceedings has been issued to the Home Department secretary, the registrar of Lahore High Court and the Anti-Terrorism Court, Gujranwala.
The commission has expressed serious concerns over the denial of appropriate relief to which Iqbal was entitled to under the JJSO [Juvenile Justice System Ordinance] and the Presidential Notification. They also noted that the age of the petitioner was not given due consideration by the trial court on account of which right to commutation of his death sentence remains unresolved. As a result, the execution of Iqbal under these circumstances would result in violations of human rights.
The NCHR has advised that until a proper inquiry is held by the government, the authorities must abstain from issuing warrants under Iqbal's name, passing the warning that hanging him would be a grim violation of Pakistan's own existing laws.
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Iqbal's trial was conducted two years before the JJSO was passed in 2000, which prohibits the execution of juveniles. After Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, the President of Pakistan issued Notification No.F.8/41/2001-PTNS in 2001, granting remission to those juvenile offenders whose death sentences had been confirmed prior to the enactment of the JJSO.
Iqbal was listed as one of the prisoners that would benefit from this notification. Despite this, his mercy petition was rejected altogether in 2016, and he has been languishing on death for more than half of his life.
As Pakistan prepares to appear before the Human Rights Committee, the monitoring body of the ICCPR on July 11, the issuance of execution warrants for a juvenile offender, will have detrimental consequences for the country's image and progress.