According to Al Jazeera English ,Mazhar Farooq remembers being freed after two decades behind bars. “After living 21 years in an eight-by-eight foot cell the world seems very strange. I could not even walk properly and would bump into things. Even a caged lion can’t walk when set free,” says the former inmate from Kasur, Pakistan. He was just 22 years old and a university student when he was imprisoned. His father had been murdered and he was in line to inherit his family’s land. But before he could, he was implicated in the murder of a local man. There was no supporting evidence; he says his name replaced a suspect’s and the medical report was false. The murder weapon was also not his. “In Pakistan, whoever is politically strong can exert influence. In jails, in court, everywhere. An ordinary person can’t do anything,” he says. He was given the death penalty, and spent his adulthood on one of the largest death rows in the world, among an estimated 5,000 prisoners in line to be executed in Pakistan.

Farooq describes living in a small cell, crammed with up to 15 people. All activities – eating, praying, going to the toilet – happened inside the cell. The inmates were allowed outside for one hour each day, still handcuffed. They were beaten and tortured. And all the while, their sentences loomed. “Two days before an execution, they isolate the condemned man. He meets other prisoners and asks them to pray for him. It’s terrifying. You realise we are all passengers on the same train. Some are boarding and others departing. When you can see your own death, only a few can actually walk up to the gallows.” As years passed he wrote letters to his family and leaned into his faith to find patience and strength. The Lahore High Court rejected his appeal after 11 years on death row, and he appealed to the Supreme Court. He would eventually send a letter to the chief justice in a last bid for appeal, which was finally granted. But gaining his freedom was just the first step. Now Farooq must build a new life for himself, find a new career, and reckon with a past that still guides his every step.

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