On May 21st, 2004, Shafqat Hussain was forced to stand inside a Karachi jail cell and urinate on a mesh of live wire. He had been arrested for kidnapping a seven-year-old boy, Umair, who lived inside the same building where Shafqat worked as a night gatekeeper in Noor Square, Karachi. The area is a slum in Orangi Town, a high crime locality with regular instances of kidnappings and targeted killings. For five days, he was subject to torture by suspension, electrocution, beatings and sleep deprivation, until he confessed to Umair’s abduction and murder before a magistrate in an Anti-Terrorism Court.

After eleven years in jail and two last minute reprieves, Shafqat is set to be hanged at 4.30 am on Tuesday, the 9th of June. His juvenility at the time of his alleged offence is disputed, and has become the cause of a worldwide campaign to halt his execution. Human rights lawyers working on Shafqat’s case contend that he was under the age of 18, and legally a juvenile at the time of Umair’s abduction. Furthermore, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that his confession, which is the sole piece of evidence against him, was induced after days of torture. According to one security official, “In those days, he’s lucky they didn’t kill him.”

Politically, the year of Shafqat’s arrest is important. “In 2004, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was at the peak of its reign over the city of Karachi,” a police source said, adding that torture induced confessions to keep a strong conviction rate were common, and was a “high probability” in this case. There were overwhelming instances of confessions attained from torture in that year, with police officials under pressure from ministers to close cases as quickly as possible. From a political perspective, it was imperative to conclude a missing child case, but despite calls for ransom, the police had few leads. That was until suddenly, one evening in May, several people ended up in prison for the same crime. The identities of at least two others are known.

According to witness accounts, all the men taken into custody were violently beaten in separate localities to extract confessions for Umair’s abduction. The others were eventually released, allegedly by paying bribe money equal to the sum of at least Rs. 80,000. Shafqat Hussain states in a transcript seen by The Nation, that the police said he would be released if he could produce a required sum of money.

“They told me about Umair’s murder and told me to give them money and then they would let me go and find someone else to charge with the crime. But I did not have any money to give them.”

According to Shafqat’s lawyer, and director of Justice Project Pakistan, Sarah Belal, "It is widely recognised and acknowledged that torture by the police in Pakistan is systemic and indeed endemic. The fact that there is credible evidence relating to Shafqat's confession being obtained though torture is a surprise to no one. The Pakistani government is obligated under CAT to hold an inquiry into the claims of torture in Shafqats case. It will be a travesty of justice to execute him without holding that inquiry and indeed a violation of Pakistan's international obligations."

Shafqat alleges he was tortured for several days in police custody by the following means:

Suspension by means of a pole passed between ties, securing his hands and feet; compression of and traction on his wrists by vertical suspension from handcuffs applied to his wrists; falaka (beating on the soles of the feet with a blunt instrument); burning, by application of lit cigarettes to the arm; blindfolding and sleep deprivation; forcefully being made to drink water and urinate on live wires to cause electrocution.

Shafqat’s injuries have been analysed by an independent medical forensics expert, Dr. Frank Arnold, who has 40 years of torture related forensics experience and has served as the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advisor on the medical analysis of torture. In a medico-legal report, he concludes that Shafqat’s injuries- lesions, scars, residual tissue, unhealed fractures and burn marks- are consistent with his account of torture.

The forensics on and recovery of Umair’s body casts further doubt on the legitimacy of police claims. In a video titled "Police," released by Geo in 2004, an unidentified man was taped pointing to a body in a drain in the presence of policemen. This same man, who bears little resemblance to Shafqat, was photographed for a now famous black and white mug-shot dated May 26th, 2004, and alleged to be Shafqat Hussain . In addition, according to Shafqat’s lawyer, “absolutely no expert was called in to analyse the ransom tapes,” which would have presented conclusive evidence that he was not the kidnapper. In the uproar surrounding Shafqat’s juvenility, the idea that he may be entirely innocent of the crime has taken a back seat.

In a transcript of his account of the court proceedings, Shafqat states:

“When I appeared before her [the magistrate], I told her that I wanted to meet her privately in her chamber so I can tell her the truth. I told her that I could not tell her the truth in front of the police officers because in front of them I will have to say whatever they are forcing me to say.”

The request was denied. The magistrate did not examine Shafqat for signs of torture, and the Reader of the Court did not record any statement regarding a physical examination. The defence lawyer, one Mr. Solangi hired for the sum of Rs. 3000 or $30, did not bring his client’s torture (or age) to the attention of the Court at any time, and did not present a single piece of evidence to support his client during the duration of the trial. Shafqat was convicted and sentenced to death solely on the basis of his confession. All other evidence presented against him was circumstantial. Since then, no judicial inquiry has been launched into the torture allegations.

After human rights lawyers raised issue with his age, an execution order was stayed in March 2015, and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) launched an inquiry into allegations of Shafqat’s juvenility on the directives of the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, though such an investigation is solely the prerogative of the judiciary and not the executive. The inquiry opens with the following paragraph:

“The objective of the enquiry is not to determine the age of Shafqat Hussain . It is to ascertain whether the claim of juvenility of Shafqat Hussain at the time of crime is valid as per the facts on record or all the evidences available so far and whether the issue of juvenility can be legally or principally raised at this point of time.”

The problem with his age is elementary. The FIA declared that there was no definitive way to know his age since no birth certificate ever existed. Following this, an attempt was made by Shafqat’s family and supporters to produce a birth document, one that was dated December 2014 and was unmistakably fake. As there was no birth certificate, the only age related evidence the state had during its own inquiry was a cursory visual assessment by a jail doctor on the night he was arrested. The doctor speculated Shafqat was 25 years of age, and jail records noted his age down as 23 years, probably to give the doctor a margin of error. The FIA inquiry into his juvenility used solely these records to ascertain he was not a juvenile, despite conceding to the non-scientific nature of its own analysis.

Despite conflicting ages on jail medical records and arrest records, the FIA inquiry report ends with:

“After going through a sea of police, jail and judicial records, we found absolutely no contradiction in the record that Shafqat Hussain was 23 years of age at the time of the arrest.”

The age narrative is missing an important piece of information. There is only one document in existence that makes a note of Shafqat’s exact date of birth, and it was confiscated by the FIA during an illegal raid in Shafqat’s hometown of Kala Lot, Azad Kashmir, mere hours after his execution was stayed in March 2015. It is an old school record, a copy of which has been seen by The Nation, attesting that Shafqat was born on the 20th of August, 1986, making him 17 years and 8 months old on the evening of Umair’s abduction, and legally a juvenile.

Though the semantics related to his case have been raised as primary issues, it has not been stated enough that this is the story of a boy with the fatal misfortune of being poor. It is a story of logistical oversights, cursory assessments and careless documentation, in a country where the burden of proof usually lies with the defence. In the absence of a competent defence lawyer, the case is often lost before it is fought, and those without means are on the receiving end of harsh, often undeserved sentences.

With the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty following the December 2014 terrorist attack on an Army School in Peshawar, 8,000 prisoners on death row are now awaiting execution, with petitions for pardon pouring in to the President. A detailed mercy petition was submitted on Shafqat’s behalf by his brother and Justice Project Pakistan on June 2nd, 2015.

A puzzling media blackout of the real facts surrounding the Shafqat Hussain case has removed attention from a clear cause for the President to approve his petition: a torture induced confession that Shafqat has recanted repeatedly over the last ten years.