THE Sindh High Court chief justice’s recent observation that convicts on death row are operating their networks from within jails is worrying. Though many familiar with the state of the criminal justice system in Pakistan will say this is old news, it is still a matter of grave concern that terrorists and hardened criminals can operate with impunity right under the noses of jail staff. Perhaps the most high-profile case in this regard was that of militant Omar Saeed Sheikh who, while incarcerated in Hyderabad jail, placed a hoax call through his mobile phone to this country’s president and army chief following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. In another incident, a raid on Karachi jail in 2011 yielded mobile phones and drugs from prisoners, some of whom were linked to militant outfits. Yet the problem is not limited to Sindh. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for example, jailed militants reportedly maintain contacts with accomplices on the outside while kidnappings are also said to be organised from inside prisons. Jail authorities are hesitant of taking action, fearing reprisals from militants.
As it is, the conviction rate in Pakistan is miserably low. It is unnerving that even the small number of terrorists and criminals that do end up behind bars are able to carry on with their activities with relative freedom. That convicts can carry on like this without the knowledge and connivance of prison authorities beggars belief, and that is why the onus for putting a stop to such activities lies squarely on prison administrations’ shoulders. Pakistan’s jails are overcrowded and ill-managed, while corruption within the jail authorities is rife. Yet the status quo cannot continue. Failing to arrest and convict terrorists and murderers is bad enough. Allowing those that are caught and convicted to carry on with business as usual from inside jail is simply unforgivable. All provincial administrations need to make a thorough assessment of jail conditions to ensure convicts are unable to carry out criminal activities from within prison.