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Pakistani convict wins scholarship

Inmate Syed Naeem Shah, 35, who serves life term and has been offered a scholarship by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP) after he topped in intermediate exams, speaks during an interview with Reuters in the Central Prison, Karachi, Pakistan, January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

After receiving one of the top results in the city’s higher secondary school examinations last year, a Pakistani convict serving a life sentence for murder in an overcrowded Karachi prison has won a scholarship for further study.

The news: Syed Naeem Shah, 35, won a scholarship for further study from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan after scoring the highest in the general high school examinations among private candidates – that is, non-traditional students – last year in Pakistan’s largest metropolis (ICAP).

  • “What I have achieved while languishing in jail is not possible if one does not have conviction,” Shah said in an interview in Central Prison Karachi, built by the British in 1899 in the port city in southeastern Pakistan.
  • The jail, like many others across the country, is renowned for overcrowding, with roughly 6,000 convicts crammed into a space designed for only 2,400. According to Amnesty International, Pakistani jails are overcrowded and inadequately ventilated, with few beds and restricted access to medicines, safe water, and bathing facilities.
Inmate Syed Naeem Shah, 35, who serves life term and has been offered a scholarship by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP) after he topped in intermediate exams, is pictured outside his classroom in the Central Prison, Karachi, Pakistan January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

What they’re saying: Shah, speaking in a jail classroom, said he enjoyed school as a child but that his family could not afford for him to finish his studies. In prison, elder inmates who were also enrolled in classes encouraged him and assisted him in studying for his tests.

Shah is one of 1,200 inmates studying at Central Prison Karachi, but his accomplishment stands out, according to Saeed Soomro, the prison’s deputy superintendent.

  • “His results are (also) tantamount to our success,” Soomro said, in giving him the opportunity to study and providing him with books and materials.    

In 2018, Shah was sentenced to life in prison – 25 years in Pakistan – for shooting and killing another man in a personal dispute in 2010. Years spent on trial, plus time off for academic accomplishments, good behaviour, and blood donations, left him with around six years to serve.

Shah must still pass an admission exam in order to formally accept the scholarship, according to an ICAP official who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

  • The scholarships, worth 1 million rupees ($5,700), are awarded to students who receive the top four grades in intermediate exams, regardless of whether they are “in jail or outside,” according to an ICAP official.
  • “I feel it will be very difficult for me to pursue this scholarship from prison,” Shah said, given the technical and specialised subjects he will be pursuing.    
  • Shah added that even before his exam accomplishment, he had filed an appeal against his conviction, which is currently pending in a high court in Sindh’s southern region.
  • “I appeal to the president of Pakistan, prime minister and chief executive of Sindh province to consider my case for remission.”
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