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Juvenile Offender on Death Row: Sindh High Court directs an Anti-Terrorism Court to “expediently” conduct an age determination inquiry

Karachi, May 15, 2018 (PPI-OT): The Sindh High Court directed an Anti-Terrorism Court in Karachi to “expediently” conduct an age determination inquiry for Muhammad Azam, a juvenile offender on death row who has been denied this right for 17 years. The directive to hold an age determination inquiry came after a petition was filed by Justice Project Pakistan on April 23, 2018.

A two-member bench comprising Justice Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Justice Muhmmad Karim Khan directed the trial court to conduct the inquiry as per the guidance of the Honourable Supreme Court’s judgment in Ziaullah vs Najeebullah and submit its findings before the court. Pakistan’s Juvenile Justice Systems Ordinance 2000 excludes the death penalty for persons under 18 years of age.

Advocate Saadat Yar Khan and JPP’s Barrister Raja Hashim Javed, while representing the petitioner, maintained before the court that Muhammad Azam’s birth records; Karachi Central Prison’s records and the jail roll confirm that he was just 17 when he was first admitted to custody. That his juvenility was never in question is exemplified by the fact that he was originally held in the Youthful Offenders Industrial School, Karachi – a facility for juvenile offenders.

In addition, the petitioner’s counsel argued that in light of the 2001 Presidential Notification, the petitioner is entitled to a commutation of his death sentence if proven to be a juvenile offender. Muhammad Azam was just 17 years old when he was sentenced to death in 1999 by an Anti-Terrorism Court in Karachi for a robbery that resulted in one person dying.

Following Azam’s death sentence, the Government of Pakistan enacted the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, 2000 which prohibited the death penalty for all juvenile offenders. A Presidential Notification granted all juveniles, like Azam, automatic remission of their sentences on the basis of an age determination inquiry.

Azam has been denied this inquiry for almost two decades now. The trial court rejected a request sent by the jail authorities to determine Muhammad Azam’s age after the Presidential Notification in August 2004, in violation of his constitutional rights. Sindh High Court’s directive to conduct an age determination inquiry comes just days after the Senate passed the Juvenile Justice System Bill 2018, legislation that makes age determination protocols mandatory for cases involving juvenile offenders.

In March 2018, The Lahore High Court directed the home department to process Muhammad Iqbal’s case in two weeks. Like Muhammad Azam, Muhammad Iqbal was also sentenced by an Anti-Terrorism Court, when he was a juvenile.

Pakistan has ratified international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) that prohibit executing and sentencing juveniles to death. Just days ago, the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights approved the Juvenile Justice System Bill, 2018 that focuses on the disposal of cases through diversion and social integration of juvenile offenders

Rimmel Mohyuddin, Justice Project Pakistan’s Spokesperson, adds: “For 17 years, Azam has been denied his right to an age determination inquiry – a step that literally means the difference between life and death to him. We laud the Sindh High Court stepping in to not only save Azam’s life, but also to pave the way for other juvenile offenders languishing on Pakistan’s death row.”

For more information, contact:
High Court of Sindh
Near Passport Office Saddar and Sindh Secretariat,
Karachi, Pakistan
Tel: (+92-21) 99203151-9
Fax: (+92-21) 99203221, (+92-21) 99203224

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