A life of a condemned prisoner
Prisoners like ‘Bali’ and many others really deserve attention and consideration by the authorities
By Sarmad Ali
The President of Pakistan a couple of days ago in connection with Eid-ul Fitr celebrations announced his decision of granting remissions to prisoners across Pakistan under Article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan. Considering the decision of President 17 prisoners were discharged from different jails across Pakistan. There were many other prisoners especially condemned prisoners who awaited their discharge as well. For e.g. Muhammad Iqbal alias ‘Bali’ is one of those condemned prisoner who has been in jail for 18 years and still there is no clue of his discharge from the jail.
‘Bali’ was a juvenile at the commission of an offence as per his school leaving certificate despite of this fact he was sentenced to death by the Special Court under Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 in 1999. His subsequent appeals to the High Court and Supreme Court were also turned down and so was his first mercy petition. His co-accused persons were discharged from the jail after completion of their sentences. The parents of ‘Bali’ died years ago and he had no chance of even going to their funerals.
The condemned prisoner ‘Bali’ was set to be sent to gallows last year after dismissal of first his mercy petition. His first mercy petition was filed from the jail which was dismissed by the President of Pakistan on merits. His second mercy petition was filed on humanitarian grounds by a third party in negation of all merits of his case which was tentatively acknowledged by the office of the President’s Secretariat (Public) Aiwan-e-Sadr, Islamabad date 7/8/2017 and sent it to the Office of Ministry of Interior for further follow up. In light of acknowledgment of his second mercy petition his execution was stayed temporarily until the pendency of his clemency plea. His second clemency plea is pending adjudication in the office of the President of Pakistan which was filed under Article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan read along with Rule 104 of Pakistan Prison Rules 1978. The case of ‘Bali’ is not the only case that needs to be highlighted there are many more cases where condemned prisoners have been kept in jail for years and years for e.g. Abdul Basit-a wheelchair bound prisoner currently housed in Faisalabad Central jail.
The Presidency of Pakistan legally cannot keep its decision pending to infinite period of time upon mercy petitions by condemned prisoners. Article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 does not read any time frame within which the President has to take his decision upon mercy petitions; therefore, the President ought to take his decision within reasonable time while considering a mercy petition by condemned prisoner. The Indian Supreme Court on numerous times had held that inordinate delay in deciding a clemency plea was inhumane and reasonable ground for condemned prisoner to be discharged from jail.
Considering the curious case of ‘Bali’ another point to be considered is that following the promulgation of JJSO 2000 the then President of Pakistan issued a Notification No F.8/41/2001-Ptns granting remission in death sentence to those whose death sentence had been confirmed prior to the enactment of JJSO 2000 subject to inquiry into their juvenility. Thus, it is fair to say that Muhammad Iqbal’s death sentence and execution are in violation of Pakistan’s international obligations under the CRC and the ICCPR and domestic law. The introduction of 18th amendment Article 270 AA of the Constitution of Pakistan has given protection to acts and notifications passed or introduced during former President Pervez Musharraf’s era.
It is also fair to say that condemned prisoners had no chance of spending a single Eid festivity with their families and loved ones being in jail for many years. Infinite incarceration itself is breathe taking and such prisoners without having any clue of their discharge from jail spend each day with no hope for life.
It is submitted that the President of Pakistan must decide pending mercy petitions in light of humanitarianism in negation of merits of each case. Those who have had spent years in jail must be discharged from jail, they had learnt their lesson. The life of a condemned prisoner is a life full of pains and miseries. Prisoners like ‘Bali’ and many others really deserve attention and consideration by the authorities.
Sarmad Ali is an advocate based in Lahore.