SC to decide juvenility of death row convict

The Supreme Court has accepted for formal hearing the appeal of a death row prisoner, Mohammad Anwar, who was a juvenile when he committed a murder almost three decades back.

A three-judge bench – comprising Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Aminuddin Khan –granted on Monday “leave to appeal” to a petition filed by Anwar’s brother Muhammad Sarwar against capital punishment awarded to his brother.

The court is yet to issue a written order in this regard.

According to the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), Anwar was in the ninth grade in 1993 when the police arrested him along with his brothers – Abdul Haq and Abdul Ghani – for killing a person during a scuffle in their neighborhood.

In 1998, a trial court awarded him a death sentence despite the fact that Anwar was only 17 years old – according to his birth registration certificate – when the incident took place.

Interestingly, two years after his conviction – on July 1, 2000 – the then government introduced the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), a law that prohibited execution of any convict under the age of 18 at the time of the offence.

However, the Lahore High Court (LHC) on July 25, 2001 dismissed Anwar’s appeal.

On December 13, 2001, a presidential notification was issued granting remission to juvenile offenders whose death sentences had been confirmed prior to the enactment of the JJSO.

On March 21, 2002, an ossification test confirmed that Anwar’s age at the time of his arrest was 16 years but the SC upheld the decision of the lower courts, dismissing his appeal on October 11, 2002.

Anwar has served over 27 years in prison – a period far longer than what he would have served if his sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment in 2002 when the issue of his age was first raised with the authorities.

During this time, Anwar has faced multiple death warrants only to be stayed at the eleventh hour and he has lived through extreme prison conditions, damaging his mental health permanently, said the JPP.

Anwar’s family repeatedly appealed to the sessions court, the LHC, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Presidency, the SC Human Rights Cell and the Ministry of Interior to consider Anwar’s juvenility.

However, the requests were either ignored or rejected by the forums. However, now the apex court has accepted his appeal for formal hearing.

The court is likely to determine whether Mohammad Anwar was actually a juvenile at the time of the commission of the offense and whether the JJSO, which was introduced two years after his conviction, could be applied to him in retrospect.

(This story has been published from The Express Tribune feed, without modifications to the text)