Pakistan Executes Man Who Was 15 When Charged With Murder
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In Pakistan, a long battle to save a life has come to an end. The life was that of a death row prisoner named Aftab Bahadur. The battle was fought by his lawyers and international human rights activists. Bahadur was only 15 years old when he was convicted of a triple murder, a crime he denies. Yesterday, he was hanged. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Shortly before he was put to death, Aftab Bahadur sat down in his prison cell and wrote an essay. He spoke of his alienation and loneliness, of how he tried to ease this with poetry and painting and of the anguish of awaiting execution on death row. The text was released by Reprieve, a U.K.-based human rights group campaigning on Bahadur's behalf.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) For many years, since I was just 15 years old, I've been stranded between life and death. It's been a complete limbo, total uncertainty about the future.
REEVES: That uncertainty ended yesterday. Bahadur was hanged just before dawn in the central jail in the city of Lahore. He was convicted in 1992 of murdering a woman and her two sons. He spent more than 22 years in prison protesting his innocence. Reprieve says his conviction was based on testimony extracted from two people who later retracted. When the murders occurred, 15 was the minimum age for legal responsibility in Pakistan. This was later raised to 18.
FARZANA BARI: I think it's very disturbing.
REEVES: That's rights campaigner Farzana Bari.
BARI: If you think by hanging children we will control the crime rate, I think that is completely misplaced understanding. And it's not going to make any difference.
REEVES: A few years back, Pakistan introduced a moratorium on capital punishment. This was lifted last December, when the Taliban massacred more than 130 kids at an army-run school in Peshawar. At least 157 people have been hanged since then, says Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International.
OLOF BLOMQVIST: I think what we've seen in Pakistan in the last six months has been incredibly alarming. Pakistan is quickly becoming one of the world's top executioners.
REEVES: The execution's being condemned by groups and individuals worldwide. Bahadur was a Christian. Church leaders were among the thousands who'd appealed for him to be spared. In Pakistan, his death's getting scant attention. So is the wave of recent executions here. Shoppers in a market in Islamabad today spoke approvingly of the return of capital punishment. This is storekeeper Khadim Hussein.
KHADIM HUSSEIN: (Through interpreter) Whatever type of crime is committed, punishment must be given. This is an Islamic law. God and prophet also say the same.
REEVES: Hussein approves of the decision to hang Bahadur.
HUSSEIN: (Through interpreter) He committed a crime. His age is irrelevant here. The crime is bigger. So what if he's under age?
REEVES: The concerns of rights activists extend way beyond the Bahadur case. They say in Pakistan, convictions are sometimes secured by torture or depend on the ability to pay a bribe. Farzana Bari says Pakistan's almost daily executions should stop.
BARI: The way criminal justice system is being so corrupt and so full of flaws, we do not want, you know, death penalty to be, you know, given to anybody in Pakistan.
REEVES: The executions continue. In the last two days, there have been three. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.