Editor’s Note: Shafqat Hussain says he was tortured into making a false confession; campaigners say he was a juvenile when convicted. The following is taken from an account provided verbally to his lawyers, from prison, and provided to CNN by campaign group Reprieve just before his execution. The Pakistan government has not returned CNN’s calls for comment. The views expressed here are the author’s own.
After numerous postponements, Shafqat Hussain was hanged in a Karachi prison in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to campaign group Reprieve.
Imprisoned at the age of 14, he was 24 at the time of execution.
His crime? He was found guilty of kidnapping and killing a child while he was employed as a security guard in 2004 – a verdict rights campaigners inside and outside of Pakistan have contested amid claims he was tortured into making a confession.
“Shafqat’s execution speaks to all that is wrong with Pakistan’s race to the gallows. He faced a catalogue of injustice, sentenced to death while still a child after being tortured by the police until he produced a so-called confession. The government’s decision to push ahead with the execution despite calls to halt it from across Pakistan and around the world seems to have been more a show of political power than anything to do with justice,” said Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve.
Days before he was killed, Shafqat described his ordeal in prison in an account for CNN.
(Pakistan) – I am alone in my cell now. Both my cellmates were hanged. I was sharing the cell with Muhammad Faisal and Muhammad Afzal. I had shared a cell with them for six or seven years.
I cannot even begin to explain what I went through when they were executed. I barely even had time to process their deaths because I myself was scheduled to be executed the next day.
I have been told I am going to be executed seven times. The first time was in 2013.
The first time I was told, I was very worried and perplexed. I felt very frustrated. At one point, I am told I am to die; the next thing I know, there is a stay. And I see a ray of hope. But then again, I am told I am going to die. You become a victim of psychological pressure.
Seven days notice of death
Condemned prisoners have a jailer assigned to come and give them this news. The jailer tells me on the day that the warrant is received at the jail, so I am told seven days in advance of the execution date.
When the jailer tells me that my execution date has been set, he separates me immediately from the other prisoners. I spend all seven days by myself in a cell in the barracks for prisoners about to be executed. They conduct a physical exam every one of those seven days. They weigh me every day, take my blood pressure and temperature as well.
On the last two days they also measure my height, my neck and my body for the clothes I am to wear when they hang me.
One day before my hanging, they tell me about my final visit with my family and that I need to execute my will. I cannot really say what I am thinking in those last seven days. My brain is thinking all sorts of things.
The final family visit is at the cell to which I’m taken. We cry and we talk about all the practical arrangements to be made after I die: about where and how I want to be buried. People usually want to be buried next to a loved one who they have survived, like a mother or father or grandparent or even a sibling. I tell my family I want to be buried next to my uncle back home.
I actually got to meet my cellmates Muhammad Faisal and Muhammad Afzal before they were executed. I saw them in their execution clothes, which is a white shalwar kameez but the shirt is shorter than the usual length – it ends just above the knees.
I have never worn that outfit but I know that the jail has had mine stitched. I pray to God I never have to wear it.
I have never seen the gallows [in Karachi Central Jail]. Prisoners generally cannot until they have to be taken to them. But when I do cross it from outside, it terrorizes me. I think to myself that may there never come a time that I have to go inside.
The jail is very silent on those days [when someone is executed].
Other prisoners find out about someone’s execution almost immediately, because that prisoner is separated at the same time from the others – seven days before the execution. All the prisoners get quite anxious and everyone prays for that prisoner. It all happens without warning. And it is not as though a final meeting or visit is arranged between prisoners. We could be sitting together like any other day, when suddenly the jailer will appear with the news and take the prisoner immediately.
They don’t even let us get our things together. We have to leave everything behind as it is and are only allowed to take a prayer mat and prayer beads. If the family wants to claim the belongings later, the prisoner’s cellmates usually pack them up and give them to the family.
Executions ‘like clockwork’
The entire process is pretty standardized, as is the time of the execution. And it is happening in jail so everyone knows what is going on and it happens like clockwork.
Of course, you reflect a lot when these things happen. We’re all in the same boat and our fate is the same as well. You think about life; tomorrow it could be any of us. You feel very uncertain about everything because nobody knows what is going to happen next.
I talk to other prisoners and they try to reassure me. We are all in the same boat so there is not much they can say really. I talk to Gul Zaman [his brother] also, but he just goes silent.
I pray for [Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar]. I pray that God put mercy in his heart for me. What else can I do? Meeting [him] is impossible. But if I [did], I would just plead my case to him. I would put everything in front of him and hope that he does something. I would not feel angry. How can I feel angry if I am just telling him about my problems in life?