MUZAFFARABAD, PAKISTAN // Relatives of a Pakistani death row prisoner said they “felt a wave of life” when his execution was halted on Tuesday.
The execution for Shafqat Hussain was stayed to examine claims he was a juvenile when the crime was committed.
The reprieve came just hours before he was due to face the gallows for killing a seven-year-old boy in Karachi in 2004.
It was his fourth stay of execution in five months in a case that has prompted grave concern among international rights campaigners and the United Nations.
Hussain’s lawyers and family claim he was under 18 at the time of the killing, and therefore is not eligible for execution under Pakistani law.
They also claim he was tortured into confessing.
His brother Manzoor Hussain said relatives gathered in Muzaffarabad, the main town of Pakistani Kashmir where the family hails from, to keep a vigil during the night of the expected hanging.
“When we were informed at 3am that he has survived, we felt a wave of life inside us,” he said.
“We were not expecting this, we had even found a place for his grave in a local cemetery here in Muzaffarabad.”
Hussain’s elderly mother Makhni Begum said she had faith that God would spare her son.
“My heart says that my son is innocent. We spent the whole night awake, we received a call at the last moment to say the execution has been postponed,” she said.
“I bowed to God after this phone call. Now my heart is satisfied that if he is surviving like this, God will save his life.”
Hussain, the youngest of seven children, was working as a watchman in Karachi in 2004 when a seven-year-old boy went missing from the neighbourhood.
A few days later the boy’s family received calls from Hussain’s mobile demanding a ransom of half a million rupees (US$8,500 at the time), according to legal papers.
Hussain was arrested and admitted kidnapping and killing him, but later withdrew his confession, saying he had made it under duress.
A detailed hearing for Wednesday has been arranged, a member of Hussain’s legal team said.
* Agence France-Presse