Crime & Justice

Life of a man freed after 21 years on death row in Pakistan

By Jaime Leon

Mianwal, Pakistan, Aug 6 (efe-epa).- Condemned to the gallows as a minor, Mohamed Iqbal spent more than half his life on death row, during which he was saved only hours before his planned execution.

Iqbal, who was released a month ago, now faces an uncertain future as a free man in an unknown world in a case that illustrates the shortcomings of Pakistan’s judicial system.

“I thought that death was the only way out. I had died mentally,” Iqbal, now 38, told EFE in the village of Mianwal Ranjha (east), at his family residence that he last saw at the age of 17 in 1998 before police arrested him for a murder he claims he did not commit.

He remained in jail for 21 years.

Iqbal claims he confessed to the murder after eight days of “horrific” torture and was sentenced to death in 1999.

In 2000, Pakistan passed a law banning the death penalty for minors, but a bone-age test determined he was under 18.

He lived in cells measuring 2.5X3 sq meters, designed for one prisoner but shared by seven.

He recalled that only three people could sleep at a time whereas the food was full of worms and the blankets carried insects.

In June 2020, a court commuted his death penalty to life imprisonment, eventually accepting that he was a minor at the time of the crime.

A life sentence in Pakistan means 25 years in prison. But after serving a minimum of 15 years, prisoners with good behavior can be released.

The judge determined that after 21 years in jail, Iqbal had served his sentence.

Iqbal learned that he would be released from a newspaper article. On June 30, he finally walked free.

In 2016, the authorities had issued the order for his execution after numerous unsuccessful appeals and the rejection of his mercy petition to the country’s president.

Iqbal thought his days were numbered.

A day before his execution he bid farewell to his people. About 40 relatives met him for the final time in prison.

“I wanted to die and make my family get rid of me. They had spent lots of money in my case. When you are jailed you are not the only one in jail but your family too,” he said.

By now all was ready for his execution. Measurements were taken and health check-up was done.

“As per the measurement of the neck and height, they tie the rope. If the weight is less then they tie sandbags to the feet to increase the weight needed to break the neck bone,” Iqbal said.

However, the execution was halted some 11 hours before it was scheduled to take place.

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