ISLAMABAD, 24 OCTOBER 2016: Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) held its Inaugural Congress on “Preserving the Right to Life” in Islamabad here on Monday.

The event comprised of a series of panel discussions and satellite activities including a photography exhibition, a live mural, installations and a mime theatre performance.

The first discussion titled ‘Convicting Children’ featured Justice Nasira Iqbal (R), activist Valerie Khan, Child Rights Commissioner and documentary-maker Samar Minallah and criminologist and lawyer Humaira Masiuddin and human rights lawyer Zainab Malik. The panel described the various fundamental problems under the implementation of Pakistan’s Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, which have led to wrongful executions and torture of juveniles in the past. The panel discussed the link between mental health, juvenile delinquency and problems of age determination. They called for the government to pass the Child Protection Bill, that forms the National Commission on the Rights of the Child. 

Following this was a panel titled ‘Terror on Death Row’, which took stock of the country’s terrorism laws and the civilian anti-terrorism courts. The panel was moderated by JPP Executive Director Sarah Belal and featured broadcast and print journalist Ejaz Haider, former police officer Mohammed Ali Nekokara, activist Jibran Nasir and Director of Conflict Law Centre, Research Society of International Law, Oves Anwar participated in the discussion. They said that the National Action Plan, particularly its focus on the death penalty, was ineffective in addressing the problems of terrorism in Pakistan. They all agreed that the law was rarely used against actual terrorists, and called for an increase in capacity for police forces.

The third panel included an interview by Rimmel Mohydin of a former prisoner, Sohail Yafat, who spent a decade in Sahiwal jail before being acquitted for a crime he did not commit. The discussion was pegged to the launch of a report A Most Serious Crime,  co-written by JPP and Yale Law School. A copy of the report can be accessed at

The final discussion ‘Reconciling with International Law’ featured Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan, Chairman of the National Commission of Human Rights, Chaudhry Shafique, Commissioner of the NCHR and Guido Bilancini a political counsellor with the European Union Delegation to Pakistan. Justice Chowhan said that with the enactment of the NCHR Act, there is no longer a need for domestic legislation to enforce Pakistan’s international legal obligations under the various UN human rights treaties, including the ICCPR and the Convention Against Torture. Bilancini said that the Pakistani government agreed with the E.U. through the mechanism of the GSP+ to be bound by its human rights obligations under the 27 human rights conventions as well. “It’s very clear that under these obligations, a mentally ill person cannot be hanged,” Bilancini added, regarding the imminent execution of Imdad Ali.

The photography exhibition by photojournalist Asim Rafiqui had intimate portraits of the families of death row inmates, some of whom have been executed. Artist Sumaiya Jillani painted a live mural on Pakistan’s use of the death penalty. Students also had the opportunity to write letters to President Mamnoon Hussain, asking for clemency for mentally ill prisoners Imdad Ali and Khizar Hayat and paraplegic Abdul Basit. A mime performance was also staged, based on the tragic case of Aftab Bahadur, a juvenile who was executed last year after being tortured into giving a false confession through torture.

Sarah Belal, Executive Director, JPP adds: “We are thrilled to see how deeply Pakistan’s students care about rectifying the structural problems that often deprive some of our most vulnerable citizens of the right to life. We hope that the productive discussions we had today will urge the government to reinstate the moratorium, and to undertake a detailed review of the use of the death penalty.”


Editor’s Notes:

1. Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) is a human rights organization that provides pro bono legal representation to the most vulnerable Pakistani prisoners facing the harshest punishments. Our clients include those facing the death penalty, the mentally ill, victims of police torture and detainees of the ‘War on Terror’. JPP was established in December 2009 and is based in Lahore, Pakistan.
2. For details contact: Wassam Waheed (+92 346 9177771) or Rimmel Mohydin (+92 321 4224941)