British mother jailed for life in Pakistan for drug smuggling to keep baby with her in prison
Khadija Shah was heavily pregnant when arrested two years ago, but relatives have raised concerns for the health of her child, pointing out that the baby has not received inoculations and is at risk of multiple infectious diseases
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Tuesday 18 March 2014
A British woman held in a Pakistani jail with her baby has been sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to smuggle heroin worth £3.2m out of the country.
Khadija Shah, 26, was arrested nearly two years ago after 63kg of the Class A drug was found in suitcases in her luggage as she passed through Islamabad airport while heavily pregnant.
The mother-of-three, from the Small Heath area of Birmingham, denied any knowledge of the drugs, saying she had been persuaded by an unnamed man to carry the suitcases and had no idea of their contents.
Her lawyer in Pakistan said that she was convicted and sentenced to life at a hearing of a Special Narcotics Court in Rawalpindi.
Nearly half of the heroin produced in Afghanistan passes through Pakistan, making it a prime route for drugs mules carrying consignments to Europe on behalf of international smuggling rings.
Shah, who was also accompanied by her two older children – Ibrahim, seven, and six-year-old Aleesha – at the time of her arrest, gave birth to her daughter, Malaika, in October 2012 and has kept the baby with her since.
Relatives have raised concerns for the health of both mother and child, pointing out that the baby had not received inoculations and was at risk of multiple infectious diseases. The prison where the Briton is being held was the scene of a tuberculosis outbreak in 2012.
Campaigners contrasted the £5m that Britain has provided to Pakistan since 2010 to support anti-drugs work with the heavy sentences handed down to drugs mules who are often exploited by smugglers. Maya Foa of the charity Reprieve said: “This is a terrible outcome for Khadija and her baby Malaika.
“As happens in hundreds of cases, she was used as a drugs mule without her knowledge and yet is facing life in a Pakistani prison.
“The UK government must ensure that Khadija gets the urgent assistance she needs to appeal her sentence, so that her baby doesn’t grow up behind bars.”
Shah, who was born and brought up in Britain and had only visited Pakistan a handful of times, has previously spoken of the comfort she draws from being able to have her baby with her despite the grim conditions in prison.
Speaking last year, she said: “If Malaika was not here, I would be crazy because things are very hard. She keeps me strong.”
The Briton said she received money for basic items from another charity, Prisoners Abroad, as well as nappies.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was aware of the sentence imposed on Shah and was providing consular assistance. An appeal against her sentence will be lodged in the Pakistan High Court next week.
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