A man returned home amid emotional scenes on Wednesday after the Lahore High Court commuted his death sentence following a 21-year legal battle for reprieve on the basis of being a juvenile convict.
A two-member division bench of the LHC had converted Muhammad Iqbal’s death sentence into life imprisonment on a petition filed by the Justice Project Pakistan.
“It seems I am reborn today and going to start a new life,” said Iqbal who was warmly welcomed by his relatives as he reached home after passing 21 years in jail.
Emotional scenes were witnessed when his sister and other family members and children received him at the doorstep of their home. They showered him with rose petals and garlanded him.
While he looked forward to his first sleep at home after years as one of the most peaceful, he also seemed mourning after looking around his house.
“People have constructed good looking houses and our home is in a bad shape. Who is responsible for all the expenses my family made in the legal battle for my survival?” he asked.
Iqbal said most of his life had been spent in jail and the rest was likely to be spent in striving to take the household back on track.
The family members, especially children, spent the past five days, before his release, while chalking out plans for the arrival of Iqbal. However, elderly members of the family restrained the children from inviting guests owing to the fear of the spread of Covid-19.
New clothes were purchased for him and his room was renovated. Food was also prepared for those visited the home to welcome Iqbal.
The LHC judgment in the case read, “Firstly the international legislation and secondly our domestic legislation impose a clear ban on the infliction of death penalty on an accused under the age of 18 years, thus, the claim of the petitioner to seek benefit which otherwise was fully available to him under the policy, having the force of law, could not have been denied.”
The accused was 17 years old at the time of his arrest. He was held with four other accused in 1998 for fatally shooting a man in Mandi Bahauddin. The following year he was sentenced to death even though an ossification test confirmed his age to be 17 at the time of offence.
The juvenile convict was the only one granted death penalty whereas all the co-accused in the case were sentenced to 10-year imprisonment.
In 2004, the victim’s family forgave Iqbal and withdrew their petition but the Gujranwala Anti-Terrorism Court refused to accept the plea due to the non-compoundable nature of the offence.
In March 2016, the home department forwarded a mercy petition on his behalf to the president. That was rejected and a death warrant was issued scheduling his execution on March 30, 2016 only to be stayed after a review petition was filed in the Supreme Court.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2020.
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