April 21, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed
Arrested in 2015 for allegedly murdering her husband, Balqees Bibi, who has spent the past eight years behind bars, has finally been granted freedom by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on April 10.
Balquees was sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in 2017 after her arrest on trumped-up charges. Her case was a lost cause until a team of AGHS Legal Aid Cell lawyers and Women Protection Officers visited her in jail in 2020.
AGHS is a nonprofit organization that has been, since its inception in 1980, providing free legal aid to women, children, and minorities, and is a forerunner in human rights advocacy in Pakistan. For the past four decades, AGHS has been conducting visits to 24 prisons across Punjab to provide free legal assistance to inmates who have been detained without charge, subjected to torture, or falsely accused of a crime.
In addition to facilitating access to justice for vulnerable prisoners, AGHS also provides legal aid to survivors of gender-based violence and advocates for legal reforms in the way of human rights.
After discovering Balqees and hearing her story, the AGHS lawyers filed an appeal in the LHC on her behalf, arguing that the charges against her were fabricated. Balqees was subsequently acquitted by the high court, citing insufficient evidence to convict her, with Justice Shehram Sarwar Chaudhry noting that the prosecution failed to prove the case against her.
Balqees’s case is not unique to Pakistan’s criminal justice system, where many innocent people remain imprisoned due to faulty investigations, corrupt practices, and a severe dearth of legal resources. AGHS’s jail visit program helps address this issue by providing free legal aid to prisoners who have no access to legal representation.
The program has been instrumental in giving free legal aid to the most vulnerable inmates, correcting miscarriages of justice, and in some respects helping to reduce jail populations. In 2020, AGHS found two Christian brothers who were languishing in jail for 16 years despite completing their sentences and secured their acquittal after filing an appeal on their behalf.
Balqees’s story is a testament to the importance of the need for a fair justice system.