Tuesday June 25, 2024

Pakistanis in Saudi prisons need urgent attention

By Mobarik A. Virk
March 12, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani nationals languishing in prisons abroad, especially those in Saudi Arabia, are in the most urgent need of legal help and assistance from their government to be able to properly defend themselves in the courts of law against the allegations because of which they have been put behind the bars.

The conditions of such Pakistanis are particularly worse in the Middle Eastern countries, especially in Saudi Arabia as their criminal justice system lacks due process provisions.

The Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a non-governmental organisation specifically working for restoration of moratorium on death penalty in Pakistan, launched a report titled: ‘Caught in a Web: Treatment of Pakistani Prisoners in the Saudi Criminal Justice System’, Wednesday at a function in Islamabad.

The report has been based on the research done by the JPP and the Human Rights Watch (HRW), focusing on the conditions of Pakistani prisoners in overseas jails, especially in Saudi Arabia.

‘Caught in a Web’ recommends the government of Saudi Arabia to enact new and amend existing legislation to reinforce protections against fair trial violations, provide lawyers to the indigent, as well as improve Arabic translation services. Recommendations for Pakistan include providing adequate consular services to detainees in Saudi Arabia and helping ensure that they have access to appropriate legal representation.

About 2.6 million Pakistanis, most of them migrant workers, make up the second-largest migrant community in Saudi Arabia. More Pakistanis are executed in the Kingdom than any other foreign nationality annually. 66 Pakistani citizens have been executed since Oct. 2014 alone.

Former Senator of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPPP), Farhatullah Babar and the PTI parliamentarian, Shireen Mazari attended the report launch function and also shared their views on the issue.

The parliamentarians were of the view that it was the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan to immediately reach out to such Pakistani nationals who were, somehow, found on the wrong side of the law and were imprisoned.

The JPP/HRW report has documented the plight of Pakistani citizens imprisoned in Saudi Arabian jails. These vulnerable prisoners suffer from rampant due process violations, such as long periods of detention without charge or trial, no access to legal assistance, pressure from the authorities to sign confessions and accept predetermined prison sentences, and ineffective translation services for defendants.

Speaking on the occasion Senator Farhatullah Babar indicted the Saudi criminal justice system, highlighting its lack of due process provisions. He also pointed out that the imprisoned Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia rarely receive any response from Pakistani government agencies which they approach for help.

“We should have a cell, in one or various relevant ministries with the mandate to examine, investigate and pursue the cases of these Pakistani prisoners abroad,” Farhatullah Babar said.

He also recommended creating a database of Pakistanis imprisoned abroad that is regularly updated and should contain the particulars of all overseas Pakistani prisoners and progress of their cases or convictions.

Dr Shireen Mazari of the PTI emphasized the importance of article 4(1) of the Constitution that imposes a duty on the state to protect its citizens at home and abroad.

“While we bemoan the shortcomings of the Saudi criminal justice system, we need to focus on what we can do on our end to assert the rights of our own citizens. All political parties should put in their manifestos and force the Foreign Office to have a universal consular protection policy,” Dr Shireen Mazari said.

“We should also negotiate bilateral agreements which may allow Pakistani citizens in KSA and Gulf countries to serve their sentences at home,” she added. She informed the audience that the PTI had included in its manifesto the urgent need to establish a universal counsellor protection policy cell at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Senator Sehar Kamran pointed out the capacity limitations and sheer indifference plaguing the Pakistani Embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia, and called upon increasing the number of community welfare officers.

“More important is that the Community Welfare fund must be utilized to hire effective legal representation for Pakistanis detained in that country,” she added.

The Chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan said that Pakistan missions abroad must be held accountable for their inaction to provide legal assistance to its citizens detained abroad.

“There should be a Treaty between our two countries based on the Vienna Convention and other UN resolutions to bring our people back here,” Justice Chowhan said.

Saroop Ijaz of Human Rights Watch also pointed out that Pakistan’s credibility is questioned in international forums when we do not comply with our international legal obligations. He added, “In Saudi Arabia, the laws are different for Saudi and foreign nationals which leads them to be more vulnerable.”

The Executive Director of the JPP, Ms Sarah Belal, said that a clear message has emerged from both the stakeholders and the findings of the report: Pakistan must enact a consular protection policy at the earliest, demand that Saudi authorities promptly alert them whenever a Pakistani is detained and negotiate a ‘Prisoner Transfer Agreement’ with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “Pakistan has lost 62 prisoners already. We cannot afford to wait any longer,” she added.