KARACHI, Pakistan (CNS) — The human rights body of Pakistan’s Catholic Church pleaded with President Mamnoon Hussain to grant clemency to a Christian death row convict who was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime.
In an urgent plea for mercy, the National Commission for Justice and Peace urged Hussain to spare the life of Aftab Bahadur Masih, whose execution was scheduled for June 10, reported the Asian Catholic news portal ucanews.com.
“Bahadur was sentenced to death for a murder that took place in September 1992. He has now spent 23 years on death row,” the letter stated. “Alarmingly, there is strong evidence to suggest that Bahadur is innocent.”
Bahadur, 39, and a second man charged in the case, Ghulam Mustafa, were convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of the wife and sons of Akeel Bari, an influential business owner in Lahore.
Bahadur was 15 when he was arrested. He was sentenced to death during a speedy trial. Critics say the verdict was based on tainted evidence and witnesses in the case now say he is innocent.
The incident received significant press attention, becoming highly politicized because the victims were from a prominent family. Police were under pressure to solve the crime and ensure there were speedy convictions.
“He was convicted on the basis of evidence from two witnesses who implicated him in the crime — his co-accused and an alleged eyewitness,” the NCJP letter said. “However, both witnesses have since recanted, saying that they only implicated Bahadur because they were being tortured.”
Bahadur has insisted on his innocence. Like many of the witnesses in the case, Bahadur claimed he was subjected to severe torture at the hands of the police.
The church’s plea came three days after the Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, sent a letter to Hussain to draw attention to Bahadur’s imminent execution.