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Former child bride sues Pakistan for wrongful 19-year imprisonment

Rani Tanveer has filed a petition seeking compensation

SAMAA | - Posted: May 9, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago
Posted: May 9, 2020 | Last Updated: 1 year ago

Rani Tanveer, who was wrongly accused of killing her husband and spent 19 years in prison, is taking the Pakistan to court seeking compensation. Courtesy: BBC

A former Pakistani child bride who was wrongly accused of killing her husband at 13 and subsequently spent almost two decades in prison is making history by being the first victim of a miscarriage of justice to seek compensation from the state, say legal human rights experts.

According to an article by the Inter Press Service, Rani Tanveer, who was released in 2017 after 19 years in prison, filed a petition seeking compensation this March. Her lawyer called the petition “ironic”.

“It would be the first time a victim is asking the state to compensate her for the miscarriage of justice meted to her,” Michelle Shahid, Tanveer’s lawyer from the legal advocacy group, Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), told IPS.

“I’ve come across numerous cases of wrongful convictions as a lawyer but rarely do these cases lead to accountability,” she said.

Tanveer, her brother and other members of her family were arrested in 1998 after her husband’s body was found buried in their residence. According to report, the family was the last to see him alive.

Tanveer’s mother was released after serving six months in jail. Her father and brother, however, passed away from tuberculosis while they were still serving a prison time of 11 and 15 years respectively.

Tanveer was sentenced in 2001 and was not allocated any state counsel. She still tried numerous times to file appeals through the prison superintendent. None of them were filed.

In 2014, however, her case was taken up by legal aid organisation AGHS Legal Aid Cell and three years later her conviction was overturned. Tanveer is now seeking compensation.

“Rani’s is a typical case that highlights the plight of those who suffer silently behind bars through no fault of their own, only to be exonerated years later, if at all,” her lawyer said.

Shahid revealed that a negligent and lackadaisical attitude could be found among the police, prosecutors, jail officials and even judges.

One of the reasons behind this was Pakistan’s lack of a “settled definition” of what constitutes a “miscarriage of justice”.

“Pakistan does not have precedent for payment of compensation or damages,” Pakistan’s representative for Human Rights Watch Saroop Ijaz said.

“It has to start somewhere; I hope that it is this case,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s criminal justice system was “dysfunctional” and that people spent decades in prison to be acquitted later without so much as an apology from the state.

A 2020 report published by the Ministry of Human Rights, discovered that there were 389 convicted women across Pakistan’s prisons while 755 women are currently undergoing trial. 

“Pakistan’s criminal justice system is in urgent need of reform and we are hoping that the court recognises that Rani is not alone in her struggle; countless innocent persons continue to be wrongfully convicted, said Shahid.

“This petition is an opportunity for the government to atone for its mistake and ensure that the state machinery collectively upholds its obligations towards citizens in the administration of justice.”

Tanveer does not know how much compensation to ask for. “I have no clue how much I should demand,” she told IPS.

She, however, hopes that it’s enough to buy things for her home such as “a pair of charpais [woven rope bed], blanket and linen, an iron, a fan, a washing machine and a stove” — all the things her mother and brother would have given her as “dowry” when she re-married last year but could not because of their financial circumstances.

Presently, in the midst of a the coronavirus lockdown, Tanveer thinks it was better to be in prison where she could get meals and did not have to worry about anyone.

Due to the lockdown, both her and her husband have lost their jobs as labourers and have moved back to the village with her in-laws.

“This coronay [COVID-19] has made my life miserable” as she has to bear the continuous jibes and scorn for her past life from her in-laws. 

“I also flare up at the slightest of provocation,” she confessed, adding: “No one understands me; sometimes I don’t even understand myself. Once the words are out of my mouth, I always feel guilty, but it’s too late,” she lamented.

Her husband insisted she was not as bad as she made herself out to be. “I keep telling her not to worry about the world or what my family says to her, as I am by her side; I love her smile and I think she is beautiful inside out,” he said.

“Her past does not matter to me; she’s made me a better person and will now make my place a home.”

The article has been written by Zofeen Ebrahim. It was first published by the news agency Inter Press Services on May 8, 2020.

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Pakistan, prison, minor, child marriage, child bride, murder, coronavirus, lockdown, IPS, Ministry of Human Rights, lawyer, court, husband, mother, brothers, family

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