Imagine spending close to two decades in prison for a crime you had nothing to do with. Imagine walking into jail as barely an adolescent and spending more of your life incarcerated than you had spent free. Imagine going through all of that simply because those that have sworn to uphold justice could not be bothered to do their due diligence. Not for weeks or months, but for 19 years. Heartbreakingly enough, this is not a nightmare thought experiment. For 35-year-old Rani Tanveer, this was life until recently. Sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001, at the tender age of 13, she was kept behind bars simply because the prison superintendent could not be bothered to file her appeal and the authorities-that-be did not care to appoint state counsel for her.
When it comes to such gross miscarriage of justice, one would naturally think some compensation would be in order. Nothing in the world can replace the years someone wrongfully punished has lost, but the least that the custodians of justice can do to set things right is help such victims get back on their feet. In the case of those like Rani, who lose their prime learning years to wrongful imprisonment, it becomes all the more vital. But when the high court finally ordered her release in 2017 after realising there was no evidence to hold her, all the judge could do was apologise. “This court feels helpless in compensating her,” were the judge’s words in his order.
One cannot entirely fault the judiciary in this instance. Because although Pakistan has signed the UN covenant that guarantees the right to compensation for victims of wrongful convictions, there has been no legislative process to translate that right into legal provisions so far. As Rani’s lawyers now hope to turn her case into rallying call for compensation for those wronged by miscarriage of justice, our legislators would do well to heed her plight and right this wrong by introducing the right set of laws.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2020.
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