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May 12, 2021

Prisoner release

 
May 12, 2021

While the news that Saudi Arabia has agreed to release 2000 Pakistani prisoners it holds in jail, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Overall, according to Justice Project Pakistan, at least 5800 Pakistani prisoners are held in Saudi Arabia and the UAE alone, while around the world over 11,000 are incarcerated in foreign jails. While being locked up in a cell in any country can be a traumatic experience, it is made all the worse if the country is one where the prisoner does not speak the local language and is unable to communicate with guards or access the local legal system. This has happened with Pakistani prisoners often also lacking counsellor access due to insufficient will shown by consulates based overseas to help these persons.

JPP also points out that at least 57 percent of the Pakistanis held overseas could be freed under extradition agreements with these countries, given that they are guilty in most cases of relatively minor offences, such as theft, violation of immigration rules, traffic offences, or drug smuggling. While drug smuggling is a crime punishable by death in many Gulf states, in a number of cases the Pakistanis who are held for the crime have been duped into smuggling the substances by agents who send them overseas. This factor needs to be taken into account when attempting to deliver justice and ensure that no wrong is done in dealing with these persons, many of whom are illiterate labourers desperate for a passage overseas in order to secure a better future for themselves and their children. Saudi Arabia had initially promised that it would release the 2000 prisoners when Prince Muhammad bin Salman visited Pakistan in 2019. At that time, only about 200 prisoners were released. The prisoners have now waited a long time and we hope that the recent news that they are to be freed will be followed through with by the authorities in that country and followed up by the government in Islamabad.

The Islamabad government also needs to look into the question of the other thousands of Pakistanis held in jails across the world. While there is an agreement with India on the release of Pakistanis who have accidentally crossed the border and of Indians guilty of the same minor transgression, with many other countries Pakistan does little to follow through on its prison population. Pakistanis held in Thai jails have in the past complained about the lack of advice and guidance they received from Pakistani consulates. This is also linked to the lack of resources available to the consulates to offer legal services and the tough laws enforced in these countries. More has to be done to educate Pakistanis travelling abroad, at least those travelling legally, about laws in other nations and also to warn those who travel illegally and make up the majority of Pakistanis leaving home, about how to protect themselves from tougher laws in other countries and the doings of agents who send them abroad. In short, Pakistani prisoners held in other countries in a situation where they are unable to access any kind of help or meet their families deserve all the aid they can receive. We hope that the release of these prisoners from Saudi Arabia will be a start in a process that will continue and lead to the release of other Pakistanis in foreign jails.