Lahore High Court’s decision to commute a juvenile’s death sentence to life imprisonment will surely inspire confidence in the country’s justice system. Mohammad Iqbal and four other men were arrested in 1998 in a murder case in Mandi Bahauddin. Iqbal was sentenced to death in 1999 while the four others co-accused were awarded 10-year imprisonment each. Even though an officiation trust had confirmed his age to 17 at the time of the offence. A divisional bench of the court gave the landmark judgment on a petition filed by Justice Project Pakistan. The judges relied on a relevant presidential notification, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Article 37, and the UN International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 6. Referring to the provisions of the international convention and the covenant-allowed domestic legislation, the judges wrote in the judgement that these provisions impose a clear ban on the infliction of the death penalty on an accused under the age of 18 years.
Iqbal put up a 21-year-long legal battle to get his legal right. In 2004, the victim’s family had pardoned him and withdrew their petition, but an anti-terrorism court refused to accept the plea due to the non-compoundable nature of the offence. After his mercy petition was rejected by the President in March 2016, a death warrant was issued setting his execution on March 30, 2016. The execution was stayed after a review petition was filed in the Supreme Court. Justice Project Pakistan has welcomed the decision, saying “a teenager should never have spent 21 years on death row, to begin with”. The courts should see to it if there are others like Iqbal wrongly placed on death row. Under no circumstance should miscarriage of justice be allowed. No innocent person should suffer even if 99 guilty persons escape the law. Law without justice is a wound without a cure.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2020.
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