KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – A Pakistani inmate serving a life sentence for murder at an overcrowded prison in Karachi has won a scholarship to continue his education after scoring one of the city’s highest high school exam scores Last year.

Syed Naeem Shah, 35, scored highest in general high school exams among private applicants – that is, among non-traditional students – last year in Pakistan’s biggest city, winning a scholarship to further his education from the Institute of Chartered Accountants Pakistan (ICAP).

“What I achieved while languishing in prison is not possible if one does not have conviction,” Shah told Reuters in an interview at Karachi’s Central Jail, built by the British in 1899 in the port city in southeastern Pakistan.

The prison, like many others in the country, is notorious for being overcrowded, holding nearly 6,000 inmates in a space intended for 2,400. According to Amnesty International, Pakistani prisons are globally at 130% capacity and are poorly ventilated, with insufficient beds and limited access to medicines, drinking water and bathing facilities.

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Speaking in a classroom inside the prison compound, Shah said he loved school as a child, but his family could not afford to continue his education. In prison, older inmates who were also taking classes motivated him and helped him prepare for exams.

Shah is one of 1,200 inmates studying at Karachi Central Jail, but his success is unprecedented, said Saeed Soomro, the prison’s deputy superintendent.

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

Shah was sentenced to life – 25 years in Pakistan – in 2018 for shooting and killing another man in a personal disagreement in 2010. Years spent as a prisoner on trial, plus time off for his academic achievements, his good conduct and blood donations, leaves him with about six years to serve.

Shah still has to pass an entrance exam to officially accept the scholarship, an ICAP official said, requesting anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The scholarships, worth one million rupees or about $5,700, are offered to students who achieve the top four scores in the intermediate exams, whether they are “in prison or outside”, said the head of the ICAP.

“I think it will be very difficult for me to pursue this scholarship from prison,” Shah said, considering the technical and specialized subjects he will be pursuing.

Even before passing his exam, Shah said he filed an appeal against his conviction which is pending in a high court in the southern province of Sindh.

“I call on the President of Pakistan, Prime Minister and Chief Executive of Sindh Province to consider my request for remission.”

(Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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