May 19th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
UN experts have called upon Pakistan to urgently halt the execution of Munawar Ali, who was sentenced to death despite being a minor at the time of the alleged offence.
In a communication addressed to the government, Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Elina Steinerte, Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, further called on President Arif Alvi to grant Munawar Ali’s fresh mercy petition. The Anti-Terrorism Court, Shikarpur, scheduled his execution for 8th March. The Larkana bench of the Sindh High Court later granted a stay on his execution after heirs of the victim compromised with Munawar Ali.
“We express serious concern as to the alleged imminent execution of Ali, despite him having been a child at the time of the offence and his death sentence following a trial in which he did not have access to effective legal representation at all stages of the proceedings,” the UN experts stated in their communication on March 19.
Explaining the background of the case, the UN experts said Ali was arrested in 2002 for a murder allegedly committed on 9 January, 2002. At the time of the alleged offence, Ali was 16 years and 11 months old, as evidenced by his School Leaving Certificate. The murder was linked to a longstanding family rivalry, as a result of which Mr. Ali’s parents had been abducted and murdered when he was 7 years old.
The UN experts said he was sentenced to death by the Anti-Terrorism Court, despite the personal nature of the offence. He was unable to secure effective representation as he could not afford to hire his own lawyer. He was provided with a state-appointed counsel. However, no evidence of his age was presented by his defense.
“The court also did not ask for an age assessment despite section 7 of the Juvenile Justice Systems Ordinance 2000, making it obligatory to conduct such an assessment when it appears necessary and prohibiting the sentencing to death individuals who were under 18 at the time of the alleged offence,” the UN rapporteurs said. The Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in 2010 and rejected his review petition in 2015.
In December 2010, the prison authorities submitted a mercy petition for Ali. This was summarily rejected without substantive consideration in 2015, based on a blanket policy to reject all mercy petitions. “Ali’s original mercy petition was submitted 11 years ago, was rudimentary, did not meet these requirements, and was rejected under the blanket policy of refusing all mercy petitions of those sentenced to death by the Anti-Terrorism Courts.”
Despite this, the UN experts said prison authorities did not submit a fresh mercy petition on behalf of Mr. Ali and thus deprived him of having his petition for clemency considered under the reformed procedure. No mercy petitions have been granted since the 2019 reforms.
“Additionally, Ali has faced two execution dates and been in prison for 20 years, which is more than an individual sentenced to life imprisonment would normally serve; as such, the principle of legitimate expectancy of life is applicable,” the UN rapporteurs noted. They pointed out that the heirs of the victim have forgiven Ali and do not want him to be executed. On 18 March 2021, a fresh mercy petition was filed for Ali.
The UN special rapporteurs also express concerns that his case was dealt with by the Anti-Terrorism Court despite being an ordinary criminal case and that his death sentence was scheduled without his petition for clemency having been meaningfully considered. “We call upon your Excellency’s Government as a matter of urgency to halt the execution of Ali and to ensure that he is either released or has his sentence commuted in line with international juvenile justice,” the UN experts said.
The UN rapporteurs said Munawar Ali’s execution would constitute a violation of applicable international human rights standards and amount to an arbitrary execution. The communication asked the government to comment on allegations that Munawar Ali was sentenced to death despite being a minor as confirmed by his School Leaving Certificate. Secondly, the UN experts sought information from the government on the steps taken to ensure that all mercy petitions are meaningfully considered in line with Pakistan’s international human right obligations.