ISLAMABAD - The authorities on Wednesday hanged a man allegedly tortured into confessing to murder as a minor and rejected an appeal from another also said to have been under-age.

Aftab Bahadur Masih went to the gallows in Lahore after more than two decades on death row, prison officials said, despite pleas for mercy from lawyers and church leaders who said he was only 15 when convicted.

Hours later the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Shafqat Hussain, convicted of killing a young boy in 2004 - when his lawyers and family say he was under 18 and therefore not eligible for execution.

But, the Supreme Court Wednesday dismissed Shafqat Hussain’s appeal.

Shafqat’s counsel and a few officials from Australian High Commission, who had especially came to witness the proceeding, were disappointed with the order.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk was hearing the appeal of Shafqat against IHC decision, which he had filed under Article 185 (3) of Constitution.

Advocate Dr Tariq Hassan, who had filed the petition on behalf of Shafqat, while arguing the case wanted to refer to some international conventions, particularly the Geneva Convention, regarding the matter but the chief justice asked him to confine his arguments to Pakistani laws.

“As far as the matter of court is concerned it is closed,” the chief justice told Dr Tariq, who argued that in Ziaullah case the question relating to determination of age came later. The chief justice remarked the media had created controversy over age issue, but the interior ministry had cleared it.

The counsel objected to the manner the President had exercised his discretion under Article 45 of constitution, which says, “The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.”

The chief justice stated: It is the executive authority that had to hear the mercy petition and we cannot interfere in it under Article 45 of Constitution… Can the Court exercise the power of President? However, the counsel contended that there were many judgments that say the president’s power under Article 45 is not arbitrarily.

At the outset of the hearing, Dr Tariq Hassan submitted: I wanted to make three things clear that I am not assailing any order of the courts. Not to assail the justice delivered by them, but I am seeking the enforcement of fundamental rights, given in the constitution… Even as condemned prisoner, he (Shafqat) is entitled to certain fundamental rights.

The counsel argued that Shafqat has been languishing in jail for the last 10 years and he has a right to be pardoned. Upon that the chief justice remarked: ‘right’ or prerogative? The CJP further asked: is it your (client’s) right to be pardoned?

Tariq Hassan contended that he was not assailing the previous judgment, adding his client was not hanged for the last 10 years due to different reasons including moratorium. He referred to Section 10 of Juvenile Justice Act.

Justice Ejaz Afzal, another member of the bench, stated that the issue was raised before the trial court, which turned down it, while the High Court on 5-5-2006 had confirmed the sentence. The Supreme Court also rejected Shafqat’s appeal as well as the review petition. The chief justice asked the counsel how he was seeking the second review of the judgment. Justice Ameer Hani Muslim remarked that after the Court judgment the executive has no authority to determine the age of convict.

Shafqat’s case has attracted particular attention from international human rights campaigners.

The ruling clears another obstacle to Shafqat’s hanging, though it was not immediately clear when a new death warrant would be issued. His lawyer Tariq Hassan said two new mercy petitions had been sent to the president.

Shafqat’s age has proved difficult to determine. His supporters say he was 14 or 15 at the time of the killing but police insist he was over 20.

Exact birth records are not always kept in Pakistan, particularly for people from poor families like Shafqat Hussain’s. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the country has now hanged over 150 convicts since restarting executions in December following a shocking Taliban school massacre - more than Saudi Arabia over the same period.

In the Masih case, a last-minute plea for clemency from rights groups, church leaders and the Justice Project Pakistan, a human rights law firm handling his case, fell on deaf ears.

He had spent 23 years in prison after being convicted of murder in the eastern city of Lahore in 1992.

Supporters say Masih was tortured into confessing to the crimes as were two of the witnesses against him - including his co-accused Ghulam Mustafa - who have both since retracted their statements.

In a moving essay from his condemned cell, published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper a day before his execution, Masih reflected on his life on death row, during which time he received numerous death warrants.

“I doubt there is anything more dreadful than being told that you are going to die, and then sitting in a prison cell just waiting for that moment,” he wrote.

“For many years - since I was just 15 years old - I have been stranded between life and death. It has been a complete limbo, total uncertainty about the future.”

British anti-death penalty campaign group Reprieve condemned Masih’s hanging as a “travesty of justice” and a “shameful day for Pakistan’s justice system”. “To the last, Pakistan refused even to grant his lawyers the few days needed to present evidence which would have proved his innocence,” Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said in a statement.