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Trapped in Pakistan's slow justice system


AFP
Karachi
Asma Nawab spent two decades in jail, wrongfully accused of murdering her family. Finally acquitted, she is seeking a new life, free from whispers and memories, as her plight draws fresh questions over Pakistan's woeful justice system.
Nawab was just 16 years old when someone slit the throats of her parents and only brother during an attempted robbery at their home in Pakistan's chaotic port city of Karachi in 1998. With the killings dominating headlines, prosecutors pushed for swift justice in a 12-day trial that ended with a death sentence handed to Nawab and her then-fiance.
The next 20 years were"very painful", Nawab, now 36, says tearfully. At first the other inmates were sceptical at her protests of innocence, but eventually she formed a new"family"of women some convicted of kidnappings, others of murders. They supported one another when progress on their cases was poor, or family neglected them.
"We would cry on Eid and other festivals. It was very painful. I would feel it intensely"when relatives failed to visit, she said through sobs."Only once my uncle came to see me."Though her trial was speedy, her appeal moved at a glacial speed through Pakistan's creaky justice system.
It was not until 2015 that her lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court, which -- after a three-year hearing ordered Nawab released due to lack of evidence last month.
"The verdict of this case was given in 12 days but it took 19 and a half years to dispose of the appeals,"her lawyer Javed Chatari said.
Nawab said the acquittal left her stunned."I really couldn't believe it,"she said.
The verdict left her"perplexed", she said, and she struggled to understand what would come next.
"How would I face the world after living so long in jail?"Stories like Nawab's are common in Pakistan, where the judiciary lacks the capacity to cope with the country's surging population and an expanding case load.

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