23,456 Pakistanis detained abroad, Senate body told

ISLAMABAD  -  Senate Standing Committee on Hu­man Rights was informed on Tues­day that there are currently a to­tal of 23,456 prisoners/detainees abroad mainly in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, India and China.

Meeting of Senate Standing Com­mittee on Human Rights was held at the Parliament House with Senator Walid Iqbal in the chair. The commit­tee deliberated on the matter of Pa­kistani citizens who are imprisoned or detained abroad, both convicted or under trial. Officials from the Min­istry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) sub­mitted that there are currently a to­tal of 23,456 prisoners/detainees in foreign prisons, mainly in Sau­di Arabia, UAE, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, India and China, out of these, 15,587 are convicted and 7,869 are under trial. Senator Mushahid Hus­sain Sayed inquired about MoFA’s initiatives to provide relief to these prisoners or establish a repatria­tion programme. He also highlight­ed that Prince Mohammed Bin Sal­man, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, announced the release of 2,100 Pa­kistani prisoners during his visit to Pakistan at the request of former PM Imran Khan. The committee accord­ingly sought information from MOFA about current status of prisoners whose release was agreed upon by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as aforesaid.

At the same time, Senator Walid Iqbal highlighted the non-exist­ence of a Uniform Consular Protec­tion Policy in the light of the govern­ment’s Constitutional duty to ensure due process of law for all citizens of Pakistan wherever they might be. He informed the committee that then Chief Justice Lahore High Court Jus­tice Mansoor Ali Shah had directed the formulation of a Uniform Consu­lar Protection Policy in his judgment in the Asma Shafi case in 2017. How­ever, about seven years have passed, but no policy has been formulat­ed so far. The committee thereup­on directed MOFA to formulate the Uniform Consular Protection Policy within the next 90 days and procure government approval for its imple­mentation. 

On the same subject, represent­atives of the Ministry of Interi­or briefed the committee that Pa­kistan had entered into Prisoner Transfer Agreements with 11 coun­tries, 10 of which were fully effec­tive and one was under process as it had yet to be ratified by a foreign government. Copies of those eleven Prisoner Transfer Agreements were also presented to the committee. The committee observed that, while these were government-to-govern­ment agreements, their intended beneficiaries were citizens of Paki­stan, therefore they should be easi­ly accessible and publicly available to everyone. Accordingly, the com­mittee unanimously recommended that all present and future Prisoner Transfer Agreements be placed on the websites of the ministries of In­terior, Human Rights, Overseas Paki­stanis and Law & Justice.

The Senate committee was briefed by chairperson of the National Com­mission on the Status of Women (NCSW) on the state of implementa­tion of UN-approved “Bangkok Rules” across Pakistan involving the treat­ment of women prisoners and de­tainees. In its previous meeting held on 29th December 2023, the commit­tee had also called for facts and fig­ures on the said subject. Chairperson NCSW, Nilofar Bakhtiar, stated that there are currently 13,065 women prisoners in the country, with 12,258 women under trial, 767 convicted, and 40 women on death row. She fur­ther added that around 60% of to­tal prisoners in Punjab are under tri­al. Moreover, NCSW played a crucial role in arranging weekly family meet­ings and ensuring better facilities for women prisoners.

The chairperson also told the committee NCSW had ensured that five of the well-known impris­oned women political activists, namely, Dr Yasmeen Rashid (289 days), Sanam Javed (289 days), Al­iya Hamza (289 days), Fehmida Be­gum (269 days), and Ayesha Bhutta (195 days) continued to be treat­ed in accordance with the Bangkok Rules. Senator Humayun Mohmand brought the committee’s atten­tion to two Supreme Court judg­ments authored by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, in the Tahira Batool Case (2022) and the Mst Ghazala Case (2023), where it had been declared and ordered, in the light of Section 497(1) of the Code of Criminal Pro­cedure, that women, underage, and sick/infirm under-trial prisoners, must be granted bail. Yet, the afore-named women, who were mothers, daughters, wives and sisters, were still not released on bail. The com­mittee thus unanimously recom­mended to the chairperson NCSW to inquire into the matter and report back to the committee on whether bail had been sought by these wom­en activists, and if so, why they still remained in jail for such long pe­riods of time despite the above re­ferred Supreme Court rulings.

The Senate body was also given a briefing by the Secretary, Ministry of Human Rights (MOHR), on the up­coming Periodic Report of Pakistan involving the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was to be presented in March 2024. The committee was apprised that ICCPR aims to ensure the protec­tion of civil and political rights, and Pakistan has accordingly been asked to report on the key issues of gen­der equality, violence against wom­en, sexual and reproductive rights, prohibition of torture, overcrowd­ing of jails, child marriage, same-sex union, abolition of the death penal­ty, enforced disappearances, right to privacy, freedom of assembly, mili­tary courts, and child rights. Howev­er, Pakistan has a different set of be­liefs on the issue of the death penalty and same-sex union. MOHR has con­ducted consultative sessions with stakeholders to obtain relevant in­formation, and a detailed report will be forwarded to MOFA for onward transmission to the ICCPR Commit­tee next month.

The chairman of the committee took up the matter of Muhammad Ilyas Ghumman, a resident of Sar­godha, Pakistan, who has been put under restrictions in terms of the Fourth Schedule to the Anti-Terror­ism Act since the last 22 years. Sen­ator Walid Iqbal argued that Mu­hammad Ilyas Ghumman is currently residing in Turkey, suffering from kidney disease, and desires to be bur­ied in his homeland. Interior Ministry officials informed the committee that Fourth Schedule proscription on in­dividuals is imposed by the District Administration on the recommenda­tion of the District Intelligence com­mittee. The committee recommend­ed the Interior Ministry to coordinate with the Punjab province administra­tion for the resolution of the matter on humanitarian grounds and submit a compliance report in due course.

Lastly, the committee took up a public petition made by the Poto­har Organisation for Development Advocacy, a women’s rights NGO, to the chairman Senate, which was for­warded to the committee chairman last week, calling for legislation to the marriage age for girls at 18 years in Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber Pa­khtunkhwa, and ICT. Nilofar Bakh­tiar, chairperson NCSW, explained that a comprehensive national lev­el bill pertaining to the same sub­ject was moved forward by NCSW in the previous government and is currently lying in the National As­sembly. Senator Dr Muhammad Hu­mayun Mohmand argued that the matter holds pivotal importance for the country and should not be de­cided haphazardly. The committee unanimously recommended to the NCSW to take up the matter again with the next federal government, in consultation with relevant stake­holders, so that the requisite legisla­tion is passed not just in Punjab, Ba­lochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and ICT, but also in Azad Jammu & Kash­mir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The meeting was attended by Sen­ator Prof Dr Mehr Taj Roghani, Sen­ator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Sen­ator Muhammad Tahir Bizinjo, Senator Mohammad Humayun Mo­hmand, Senator Falak Naz, Senator Syed Waqar Mehdi, Caretaker Feder­al Minister for Human Rights Khalil George, Secretary, Ministry of Human Rights, Human Rights A D Khawaja, chairperson NCSW Nilofar Bakhtiar. Senior officials of Interior Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were also in attendance.

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