Pakistan hangs convicted killer despite claims that he was 15 at the time he committed the crime

Shafqat Hussain (pictured) was hanged before dawn at a jail in Karachi for killing a seven-year-old boy the city in 2004.
Shafqat Hussain (pictured) was hanged before dawn at a jail in Karachi for killing a seven-year-old boy the city in 2004.PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI (AFP) - Pakistan on Tuesday executed a convicted killer whose supporters say was a juvenile at the time of his crime, despite strenuous objections from rights groups and the United Nations.

Shafqat Hussain was hanged shortly before dawn at a jail in Karachi for killing a seven-year-old boy the city in 2004, his brother and a prison official told AFP.

His case drew international attention as his lawyers and family claim he was only 15 at the time of the killing and was tortured into confessing.

Prison officials handed the body over to his brothers, who alleged the execution was not carried out properly.

"There is a cut mark on his neck and half of his neck is separated from his body," brother Abdul Majeed told AFP.

At his hometown in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir, his family was distraught. "Why did they hang my innocent brother, only because we were poor?" said his sister Sumaira Bibi, beating her chest and weeping.

"My son was innocent, only Allah will prove his innocence in his court," his mother Makhni Begum told AFP.

"We can't do anything but they (executioners) will face Allah on the day of judgement," she said.

United Nations rights experts have said his trial "fell short of international standards" and urged Pakistan to investigate claims he confessed under torture, as well as his age.

The government of Kashmir, Hussain's home region, urged President Mamnoon Hussain late on Monday to postpone the execution to allow further inquiries, but the hanging went ahead as planned.

"Shafqat Hussain was hanged 10 to 12 minutes before dawn prayers today," a prison official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Hussain's brother Gul Zaman confirmed the news to AFP.

Hussain was originally due to face the noose in January, but won four stays of execution as his lawyers fought to prove he was under 18 at the time of his offence and could therefore not be executed under Pakistani law.

A government-ordered probe to determine Hussain's age, carried out by the Federal Investigation Agency, ruled he was an adult at the time of his conviction - though the results have not been published officially.

Pakistan has hanged around 180 convicts since restarting executions in December after Taleban militants massacred more than 150 people at a school, most of them children.

A moratorium on the death penalty had been in force since 2008 and its end angered rights activists and alarmed some foreign countries.

The European Union, which opposes capital punishment in all cases, has been particularly vocal.

Last week, the EU mission in Islamabad said it was "deeply concerned" by the resumption of hangings and warned that a prized trade status granted to Pakistan could be threatened unless it stuck to international conventions on fair trials, child rights and preventing torture.

Hussain, the youngest of seven children, was working as a watchman in Karachi in 2004 when the seven-year-old boy went missing from the neighbourhood.

A few days later the boy's family received calls from Hussain's mobile demanding a ransom of half a million rupees (S$11,700 at the time), according to legal papers.

Hussain was arrested and admitted to kidnapping and killing him, but later withdrew his confession, saying he had made it under duress.

His true age has proved difficult to ascertain - exact birth records are not always kept in Pakistan, particularly for people from poor families like Hussain's.

A birth certificate circulated in the media several months ago, but it appeared to have been issued only in December and Interior Minister Chaudhry Ali Nisar Khan said there was no proof of its authenticity.

Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.

Supporters of the death penalty in Pakistan argue that it is the only effective way to deal with the scourge of militancy.

But critics say Pakistan's courts are largely unjust forums, with rampant police torture, poor legal representation for victims, and unfair trials.