The harrowing story of Sohail Yafat unveils the failures of the Pakistani judicial system. When unable to conclude who the suspect is, or when the suspect is too powerful to pursue, the Pakistani judiciary targets and exploits the most marginalized members of society. In this case, that member would be 18 year-old Christian orphan Sohail Yafat.
Yafat was implicated of a murder in 2001 and was, without significant evidence, taken into police custody. In his story, Yafat explains that his background as a Christian orphan without any social or economic capital was the main reason he was chosen as the scapegoat for the murder. Explaining his feelings of helplessness, Yafat said, “Life was riding on a blind horse and I had no idea where it would finally stop”.
Beaten, abused, tortured and with no recourse except a state-appointed lawyer, Yafat found himself sentenced to life in imprisonment. It was only after 10 long years in prison that his appeals were finally heard, and he was finally released and acquitted of his charges. And even after freedom, Yafat faced ostracization and alienation due to the stigma of having spent time in jail; he was unable to find employment until Barrister Sarah Bilal offered him the platform of Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) to work to save others from the suffering he had faced.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Yafat said, speaking of someone else who spent 18 years in jail – completing his sentence and getting released – before being proven innocent. Yafat also mentioned an individual who was hanged and then subsequently acquitted.
When asked about the failings of the judiciary and his thoughts on the death penalty, Yafat stressed that the first thing Pakistan needed to do to bring about a substantial change was get comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations. The death penalty and its morality needed to be discussed in a healthy debate, and so did prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration. Pakistanis, especially those that are educated, can no longer sweep important problems such as this under the rug.
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