The top court on Monday commuted the death sentence of a convict, who has spent 28 years in jail and had been on death row for the last 23 years, after determining he had committed the crime while still a minor. A three-member bench comprising Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Aminuddin Khan heard a petition filed by Muhammad Sarwar, brother of the convict, against the capital punishment awarded to Muhammad Anwar. Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik in an eight-page verdict said, “Muhammad Anwar was a juvenile at the time of the commission of offence within the meaning of section seven of Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 and is entitled to benefits of Presidential Order dated 13.12.2001”. Therefore conviction of Muhammad Anwar under section 302 (b) is maintained and his sentence of death is converted to imprisonment of life, the judgement added. The Supreme Court’s ruling was hailed by Justice Project Pakistan, a rights group that fought the years-long legal battle for Muhammad Anwar. According to the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), Anwar was in the ninth grade in 1993 when the police arrested him along with his brothers – Abdul Haq and Abdul Ghani – for killing a person during a scuffle in their neighbourhood. In 1998, a trial court awarded him a death sentence despite the fact that Anwar was only 17-year-old – according to his birth registration certificate – when the incident took place. Interestingly, two years after his conviction – on July 1, 2000 – the then government introduced the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), a law that prohibited the execution of any convict under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. During this time, Anwar faced multiple death warrants only to be stayed at the eleventh hour and he lived through extreme prison conditions, damaging his mental health permanently, said the JPP. Anwar’s family repeatedly appealed to the sessions’ court, the LHC, the SC and its human rights cell, the Presidency and the Ministry of Interior to consider Anwar’s juvenility. However, the requests were either ignored or rejected by the forums. But, now the apex court has converted the petition into an appeal and the same was allowed. Expressing hope that Anwar will be released soon, his counsel Zainab Mahboob said that the court ruled the time spent in prison will be considered as a served sentence. She added that Anwar, while in prison, had suffered three heart attacks since 2013. Under the law, inmates are freed if they have already spent more than 14 years behind bars after being convicted and sentenced in a murder case. Barrister Sarah Belal, executive director of Justice Project Pakistan, welcomed the development, saying: “Pakistan has steadily been taking steps to ensure the fulfilment of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Last year, another court had commuted the death sentence of Muhammad Iqbal, who spent over 20 years on death row for a crime committed as a minor. “This, however, begs the question why children are being sentenced to death anyway when all local and international laws expressly prohibit it,” said Bilal.