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Zulfiqar Ali, a 54-year-old terminally-ill Pakistani on death row in Indonesia, passed away on May 31, 2018.

He was arrested in 2004 and sentenced to death on drug charges, following a forced confession and an unfair trial.

An Indonesian government inquiry concluded that he was innocent in 2010.

Nonetheless, his incarceration continued and in July 2016, warrants for his execution by firing squad were issued.

The execution was stayed after a last minute intervention by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Ali was diagnosed with stage-4 liver cancer in January 2018 and was told he only had three months to live.

He leaves behind five children, a wife and mother.


Zulfiqar taught me how to be compassionate

When the poor prisoners in our jail could not afford anything better than the inedible prison food, Zulfiqar decided to distribute packets of noodles from his own pocket.

He didn’t know who these people were, where they came from, what they had done or what languages they spoke, but Zulfiqar helped them — not once, not twice, but on most days.

I remember seeing long queues outside our room of people thanking him and asking him for food. He never refused.

Op-ed: Death of a prisoner

Some days, he would give out as many as 300 packets of noodles, and around every six months, he would feed 3,000-4,000 people in the jail at a time.

You can imagine how much money that costed him.

His own medical bills were in the thousands of dollars. He had lost a lot back home, he had lost his health, he had lost several years of his life.

But giving was important to him. He could not see people around him going to bed without a decent meal.

Zulfiqar taught me how to be hopeful

I remember that one night in 2016 when they came to take him away. He was so sick, he couldn’t even walk.

They put him in a wheelchair and tied his legs and neck while he still had his oxygen mask on, and put him on a bus with 13 other people.

The 10-hour bus ride was taking him to the island where he was scheduled to be executed by a firing squad.

That one day, he got lucky. He received a last-minute stay on his execution after the Pakistani prime minister spoke to the Indonesian authorities.

Zulfiqar was seen smiling and flashing the victory sign at the camera in a picture released shortly after.

Letter from prison: Terminally ill and on death row in Indonesia — Pakistani national Zulfiqar Ali requests to be sent home

He was hopeful that he would eventually be saved and taken out of his misery with Pakistan’s efforts — the same country that had neglected him for years, the same country he still had pride in.

The Pakistani embassy did pay for his medical bills when he ran out of money, but what he needed the most ever since he was in jail was to be set free from the stain of the crime that he never committed and to die at home with his family.

In the five years I was in the jail with him, I never saw anyone from the Pakistani embassy visiting him, to help him fight his case, to help him gain freedom, to help bring him back home.

But I always saw Zulfiqar’s unwavering trust in his country.

Zulfiqar taught me how to be forgiving

Can you imagine being subjected to the pain that was inflicted upon him and still have no desire for revenge in you?

For days, he was kicked, punched and beaten so horribly by the police that he had to be rushed into emergency surgeries.

There was no evidence that Zulfiqar was involved in drug trafficking.

But they brutalised him so severely that he was forced to sign a self-incriminating confession.

All that torture left him with stomach and kidney injuries that lasted him a lifetime.

Zulfiqar said he wouldn’t even wish the agony he went through upon his enemies.

Reverse the roles, put the officers who tortured him in front of him and hand him a baton, and he still wouldn’t do it.

Related: Pakistani citizens, including children, on death row in Saudi Arabia and Iran

There were some people who saw the kindness in Zulfiqar, but there were more who took advantage of him.

Every day, I would see the jail officer come to him and ask for money.

He was so heartless, he wouldn’t even let Zulfiqar go to the hospital if he didn’t pay him.

Another officer who would take him to the hospital would also ask for his share.

Then there were police officers for whom Zulfiqar used to buy lunch every now and then.

For Zulfiqar, nothing was free. And his health wasn’t on his side either. I remember him being weak, and always with a fever.

Many times, I would see him vomiting blood. He had to take several medicines every day that cost him a fortune.

Yet, the corrupt officials around him kept extorting money out of him. And Zulfiqar kept on complying.

Zulfiqar taught me how to be patient

Every day, for six years, Zulfiqar waited for the proof of his innocence to come out.

It did in 2010 when an inquiry commission formed by the then-Indonesian president found him not guilty.

The authors of the report even publicly confirmed that Zulfiqar had not just been wrongfully sentenced but had also been subjected to severe human rights abuses. Zulfiqar was finally proved innocent.

And then, for eight more long years, he waited to be sent home. His body had already weakened because of the injuries and scars caused by the torture. His pockets had already been emptied with all the bills.

But his heart was full of hope. He knew his place was not inside the prison, and there was still goodness left in the world.

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But it had been 14 years now and he just wanted to go home, when his life was unexpectedly and drastically shortened by stage-4 terminal cancer.

Now he only had a few months to breathe. Only a few months left to hope. Only a few months to wait for freedom.

Luckily, Indonesian President Joko Widodo was visiting Pakistan soon after Zulfiqar was diagnosed.

I heard about public uproar and massive campaigns that called for Zulfiqar’s release.

The Pakistani prime minister took it up with Indonesian president who promised to look into Zulfiqar’s case and make sure he was freed.

But his freedom only came with death.

No amount of pressure could urge the governments of Indonesia and Pakistan to take action for a helpless, dying man.

No amount of humanity could make them fight for him.

Zulfiqar’s tragic story couldn’t stir their hearts enough to bring him home, not even in his very last moments.


Mohammad Reza Nezafa was Zulfiqar’s fellow inmate at Batu Prison in Indonesia. He spoke to Ema Anis who wrote it in the form of an article.