KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A death-row prisoner whose family says was just 14 years old when he was convicted of killing a 7-year-old has had his execution stayed for a fourth time, authorities said Tuesday.
Liaquat Khoso, an official at Karachi Central Jail, said the order to stay Shafqat Hussain's execution was received from the country's Supreme Court just hours before Hussain was scheduled to hang.
Authorities said the execution was halted after Hussain's conviction was challenged anew in the Supreme Court and an urgent hearing by a three-judge panel headed by the Chief Justice was set.
Hussain was to be executed in connection with the 2004 killing of a seven-year-old. His family and lawyers have said he was only 14 at the time of the alleged crime and that he was tortured into confession.
Hussain's lawyers were not available to comment on what new grounds they presented to argue that charges should be dropped. Officials stayed Hussain's execution three previous times after intense public outcry and condemnation from human rights groups.
Hussain's is the most high-profile execution case since the government lifted a moratorium on the death penalty.
In January, Minister of the Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said he was postponing the execution to allow officials to investigate Hussain's age. On Tuesday, speaking to parliament, the minister said earlier police and jail reports had put his age at 23 or 25 at the time of the arrest but said officials were still trying to determine his age.
The government has sharply increased its use of the death penalty. Earlier this week, Pakistan hung 12 prisoners in a single day — the largest group since the moratorium was lifted.
Human rights groups say Pakistan has about 8,000 people on death row and have heavily criticized the government for bringing back executions, saying the legal system often uses torture to elicit confessions and does little to protect defendants.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's administration partially lifted the moratorium in December for terrorism-related cases following the Taliban attack on a school that left 150 people dead. But the government later lifted it entirely.