Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Tortured into confessing: How a teenage boy ended up on death row

Muhammad Iqbal has spent 20 years on death row, here is his story

Photo: File

Muhammad Iqbal has spent 20 years on death row, after being accused of fatally shooting a man in Mandi Bahauddin at the age of 17. Here is his story, as narrated to the Lahore-based Justice Project Pakistan (JPP).

I still remember that summer day in 1998 vividly. A few friends and I had taken some cows down to the riverside to bathe them. Little did I know that this would be one of the last things I did as a free man.

The series of events that followed are a blur. I remember being bundled into a car by more than a dozen policemen and being driven to a secret location. I had never imagined the following days would be what I imagine hell to be like.

For days, I was kept in a torture cell in the middle of nowhere, with no window and no sunlight. I could not tell day from night, night from day. The torture was brutal. I do not have the words to describe the intensity of the pain.

It was blinding. I felt helpless and, more often than not, hopeless. I swore repeatedly that I had not done anything.

But no one listened.

They tied my hands behind my back with a rope that was hung from a hook on the ceiling. I was then hoisted up into the air with my wrists. I felt as though my shoulders were being ripped out from my torso. The pain was unbearable and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

As soon as the policemen untied the ropes, I was forced to lay on my back as a heavy iron rod was placed on the top of my lower body. Two policemen then sat on either side of the rod, weighing it down, while another two policemen started rolling it along my body. It was like being under a steamroller. My body was reeling under the weight of the policemen and the rod.

My skin began to peel off; I carry the scars from that to this very day.

My legs and feet were also tied to the lower half of a charpoi as an instrument was used to stretch my legs wider. The pain was excruciating, as if my thighs and legs were being torn apart. The policemen forced me to repeat after them, “Main chuha hoon” (I am a rat).

They wanted to break me; to force a false confession out of me. They finally succeeded after threatening to register a fabricated case against my father. They said they would torture him like they tortured me and that he would die. This broke me. I could not bear the thought of my father going through the same ordeal I was going through. The thought was as painful as the wounds on my body.

I was finally shifted to a jail. Twenty-two years later, I continue to languish in one. I’ve still got the bruises. My shoulders, chest, hips, knees and thighs, in particular, still hurt, particularly during the winter months. My thighs and right knee cause the most discomfort.

Ultimately, my father died of grief. Navigating through the judicial maze to get me out of prison took his life. I did not even get to see him during his last days. I couldn’t attend his funeral. My family has lost what little we had to this nightmare. The pressure of legal fees along with the endless commuting to and from the courts, police station and home has taken a toll on my family. There has been no financial or emotional relief. The burden keeps piling up. We have nothing left now.

In 2001, a presidential notification granted remission to all juvenile offenders whose death sentences had been confirmed prior to the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance prohibiting the execution of anyone under the age 18 at the time of the alleged offence. My name was also among the list of prisoners entitled to have their death sentence commuted. An ossification test earlier ordered by the court determined my age to be 17 at the time of the incident. The evidence, however, has been ignored time and again.

I pray to Allah to soften the hearts of the policemen who tortured me. May He guide them to the path of righteousness so no one goes through the anguish my family and I have suffered.

All I do is wait. As I’ve been waiting for the last twenty-two years. This wait has costed me a whole lifetime, a family, children of my own. Abduction at age 17 and the ruthless pain that I was subjected to has left me helpless and hopeless. I ache all over. My body is no longer strong enough to do any sort of intensive work. And the only skill I’ve learnt in prison is patience.