"I am [a] victim of the injustice; the entire system is responsible"
A Pakistani child bride is set to sue the Pakistani authorities after she spent 19 years in prison for a murder she did not commit.
She is seeking legal action in a bid to persuade the country to help thousands of other victims of miscarriages of justice.
Rani Bibi was 14 when she, her father, brother and cousin were convicted of the murder of her husband.
She then spent almost 20 years sweeping the floors of an overcrowded prison.
In 2019, a Lahore high court judge acquitted her of all charges, noting that she “was left to languish in the jail solely due to [the] lacklustre attitude of the jail authorities”.
He added that “this court feels helpless in compensating her”.
Now 36, Rani is trying to regain her life as best as she can.
She had not reached the legal age of marriage under Pakistani law when she was forcibly married off by her parents.
Soon after her husband was murdered, with his body buried alongside the shovel used to kill him, Rani was jailed along with her father, her brother and cousin.
Her father died in prison while her other relatives served a far shorter sentence. No evidence linked Rani to the murder.
She explained: “I am [a] victim of the injustice; the entire system is responsible [for] ruining my teenage and youth years in prison without any crime.”
Due to her prison sentence, Rani struggles to find work.
She has remarried and lives with her husband and brother.
“I was formerly working as domestic help but have not a stable job since then. Although acquitted, I struggle to find employment due to the stigma attached to time spent in prison”.
She revealed that the prison superintendent failed to file her appeal to the high court.
Her case was discovered by chance in 2014 by a lawyer named Asma Jahangir. An appeal was pursued and Rani was acquitted in 2017.
Rani and her supporters now hope that Pakistan introduces a system to compensate victims of miscarriages of justice.
Michelle Shahid, a lawyer from the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, said:
“This case needs acknowledgement from the judges of the miscarriage of justice.”
“There is no debate in Pakistan about wrongful convictions of criminal cases and this is the right time to introduce legislation about this issue.”
A study found that of the death sentences reviewed by the Pakistan supreme court, 78% of those decided by lower courts were overturned.
Legal experts believe that the former child bride’s case can help a flawed legal system that wrongfully convicts thousands of people.
Senior attorney Osama Malik told the Guardian:
“The case of Rani Bibi spending two decades in jail after being wrongly convicted may seem rather alarming to outside observers, but those who practise law recognise that convictions on the basis of circumstantial evidence or confessions extracted through torture by the investigating agencies are a fairly common occurrence.”
He went on to say that lower courts rely too heavily on insufficient evidence and questionable confessions.
Mr Malik said: “Pakistan in 2008 became a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees that anyone who suffers from a miscarriage of justice will be compensated.
“However, this is something that Pakistani courts have been reluctant to enforce for fear that the sheer number of wrongful convictions every year may result in opening of the floodgates with thousands of victims demanding compensation.”
Rani wishes to ensure that no one has to go through what she did.