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Pakistani court gives death penalty to soldier who shot dead unarmed youth, captured on video

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KARACHI, Pakistan - A Pakistani court on Friday sentenced to death a soldier who shot and killed an unarmed youth as he was begging for mercy — an incident that was caught on videotape and repeatedly broadcast on TV, triggering unusual public anger at the country's powerful military.

Five other soldiers and a civilian who were present during the June killing in a park in the southern city of Karachi were also convicted of murder and handed life sentences.

The verdicts were a rare instance of Pakistani security forces being held publicly accountable over human rights abuses, which are allegedly widespread. The killing came at a time of heightened public criticism of the army over its failure to detect or stop the unilateral May 2 U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, and added to its humiliation.

Sarfraz Shah, 18, was shot on June 8 after being detained by a group of Pakistani Rangers. A local TV journalist caught the incident on tape. The footage drew public fury, and the suspects in the case were quickly arrested and put on trial.

In a brief session at the anti-terror court that heard the case, Judge Bashir Khoso told the seven men they were guilty of murder and read out the verdicts.

The men were grim-faced, but otherwise did not react. Shaukat Hayat, the lawyer for Shahid Zafar, who was sentenced to death, said he would appeal.

Salik Shah, the victim's eldest brother, burst into tears after hearing the verdict.

"I am satisfied with the verdict," he said later, outside the court. "It would somewhat console our sentiments that the murderers of my brother have been sentenced appropriately."

Officials at the time said Shah was picked up in the park on suspicion of robbery; some accounts have said he was carrying a replica or toy pistol.

The video footage shows him unarmed surrounded by the Rangers. At one point, he moved toward one of them with his arms outstretched, but he was pushed back, then shot twice in the hand and leg. While on the ground, he begged the Rangers to take him to a hospital, but they stood by as he writhed in an expanding pool of blood.

Shah was eventually taken to a local hospital and died shortly thereafter from blood loss.

Pakistani security forces are often accused of using excessive force and killing unarmed civilians, typically those suspected of being criminals or militants. The criminal justice system in Pakistan is inefficient and conviction rates are very low, meaning officers sometimes kill suspects rather than try to prosecute them, human rights activists said.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the verdicts.

"One hopes that the verdict will go some way in arresting the impunity with which Pakistan's trigger-happy security and paramilitary agencies perpetrate abuses," said Ali Dayan Hasan, the group's Pakistan director.

Pakistan rarely executes people sentenced to death, and life sentences usually are 15 years. Executions that do take place are carried out by hanging.

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