ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani death row prisoner whose family says he was 14 when he was convicted has been given a reprieve, officials and his lawyers said late Wednesday, in a case that has focused attention on Pakistan's sharp increase in executions.
Shafqat Hussain was scheduled to be executed early Thursday morning in the port city of Karachi in connection with the 2004 killing of a seven-year-old. His family and lawyers say he was only 14 at the time of the crime and allege his confession was extracted through torture. After an intense public outcry and condemnation from human rights groups, officials stayed his execution late Wednesday although it is not clear for how long.
Shahab Siddiqi, from the legal group Justice Project Pakistan that is representing Hussain, said it has heard from various sources that the execution has been stayed although they have not yet received official notification. He said the group handed over a mercy petition to an official from the Pakistani president's office late Wednesday as well.
An official from the president's office and from the jail where the execution was to be carried out Thursday confirmed the stay. Both did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Hussain is the most high-profile execution case following a government decision to lift a death penalty moratorium. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif partially lifted it in December for terrorism-related cases following the horrific Pakistani Taliban attack on a school that killed 150 people. But last week the government lifted it entirely.
Hussain's family says he was 14 when he was convicted for kidnapping and manslaughter. In January, Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said he was postponing the execution to allow officials to investigate Hussain's age. Then 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.
Meanwhile 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. They've slammed the government for bringing back executions, saying the legal system often uses torture to elicit confessions and does little to protect defendants.
Associated Press writer Zarar Khan contributed to this report.