Meet the Pakistani lawyer who helped 10,000 prisoners get a second chance at life

When we think of prisoners in Pakistan, only the thought of maximum punishment for their sins come into our minds. But one lawyer from Pakistan thinks very differently.

Haya Emaan Zahid strongly believes in second chances. For the past 8 years, she has been providing free legal services and education to prisoners who were regretful of their crimes or past actions.

The thought of offering such services and freeing prisoners came to Haya when she was still an intern at her grandfather’s small legal clinic for women in Karachi.

During my internship, I met a convict girl the same age as mine name ‘Nasreen’ there. She was sentenced for 25 years on charges of kidnapping. She claimed her innocence and was subjected to miscarriages of justice. – Haya Emaan Zahid

Haya recalls that Nasreen was not like other prisoners she had met in the jail. She was a bit educated and provided help to other prisoners by writing letters for them to their families.

Over the course of her internship, Haya grew closer to Nasreen and they became friends but eventually, Haya had to move on with her life.

Now, it’s been 14 years since we first met and in these 14 years I have changed a lot. I started having expensive meals but she’s still having the same ‘Daal’ every day for 14 years. I got married, have two children and travelled across the world but she’s still there in a small cell of the same jail.

Providing legal aid to prisoners who can’t afford a good lawyer for minor crimes

For the next 14 years, Haya’s life changed a lot in contrast to Nasreen who was still the same as ever in her prison. But what did not change about Nasreen was her still caring attitude towards others in jail. She never showed any signs of hatred or anger towards anyone.

This courage and resilience of Nasreen greatly inspired Haya and that’s when she started fighting for prisoners with minor crimes who require access to legal representation so their concerns and voices can be heard.

She strongly believes that any poor prisoner who is regretful of their past actions or crimes deserves a good lawyer, and that is exactly what she became.

Today I’m proud to say that I’m managing one of the biggest legal aid programs for prisoners in South Asia. I have visited more than 21 jails and in last 8 years I have been part of a process which has freed 10,000 prisoners and validated their innocence

Over the course of her career, Haya has not only helped free 10,000 prisoners through The Legal Aid Society but has also become the first person to introduce legal education in prisons.

She now helps prisoners learn about family law, jail law and property law so they know how to appear in courts and help safeguard their entitlement as human beings.

Haya has faced many challenges throughout her life for supporting and helping prisoners. Not many would understand what she’s trying to do.

Every human being deserves a second chance, and that is what Haya is fighting for. We wish her the best for her noble cause.

More about Legal Aid Society

Legal Aid Society is an NGO providing legal aid to women in shelter homes and children that are referred by the Child Protection Units.

The NGO also provides capacity building of any prisoners through education in street law and para legal training.

It operates mostly in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Ghotki, and Larkana.

For more information on Legal Aid Society, visit their official website.