Maryam Nawaz’s face is unreadable. Her expression betrays nothing. Whether she plots her arrival in the Prime Minister House or plans which one of her Chanel bags to wear with her Fendi scarves, she looks exactly the same.

Perhaps, then, it was not the comfort of her business class airplane seat that brought such peace to her face. Maybe years of living in the lap of luxury teaches you how to look unflappable.

Her father, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the other hand, has aged. It’s been an interesting journey for him through the corridors of power in Pakistan.

To some, it did not serve him well. To others, it served him too well. When he was demonstrating against his ouster, he grimaced, he raised his voice, his emotions creating as many ripples in the crowd as they did for his frown lines.

Nevertheless, all roads that he has taken — whether on business class flights, private planes, helicopters — have taken him to Adiala jail. And he is not happy.

Since he has been there, there has been much outrage by his followers. Within hours of being incarcerated, tweets began circulating. How dare a three-time prime minister be subjected to such squalor? How could the first class Sharifs be kept in B-class cells? Where was the dignity? The respect?

Related: Other women prisoners

Then we heard that the unflappable Maryam was complaining. There were too many mosquitoes in prison, and she was loathe to touch the prison slop that they served her.

The other prisoners do not have that luxury. They either starve or get used to the taste. But her privilege might now accord her a move to Sihala Rest House, where fresh flowers might be laid out, next to clean bedding and her own bathroom. She could even tweet from there. So really, the only prison she would be in is the one in her mind.

Nawaz is now facing complications from his damaged kidneys. Doctors have been called in, medical reports and recommendations are being prepared in haste. Before long, this might be cited as a reason for his shift to loftier accommodation as well.

Some prisoners, it appears, are more equal than others.

Last week, reports emerged that Nawaz's movements had to be restricted in jail. He was out for a stroll in the courtyard of his barrack early in the morning, possibly looking to clear his mind, or even walk off the jetlag from being in London.

But he had company. Company that was angry at him.

In their wildest dreams, the prisoners at Adiala Jail had probably never deemed possible the opportunity to confront Nawaz face-to-face. They were not going to pass up on it now.

You see, prisoners in Pakistan have reason to be very, very angry with the government(s) of Nawaz.

They lifted the moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan, killing 494 prisoners to date. Many of them have been innocent, many have been mentally ill, others have been juvenile offenders. Some of them have died while waiting to be executed.

The Nawaz government knowingly sat atop a system that hangs the living and exonerates the dead, and the prisoners know this better than anybody.

Read more: Pakistani prisons house 57pc more inmates than authorised capacity

Adiala has over 5,000 prisoners. It is designed to hold 1,900. This overcrowding, while criminal, is not unique to Nawaz's new home.

Lahore's Central Jail holds 2,332 more prisoners than it is made for. Central Jail, Faisalabad holds 1,828 more prisoners than capacity. In Sialkot’s District Jail, that number is at 1,384 and in Gujranwala, it is 1,840.

Naturally, this causes some shortages.

For example, a lack of privacy when using the bathroom. There are at least five prisoners to each cell, where they have to defecate and urinate in front of each other. Sometimes they’ll have a fellow inmate hold up a piece of cloth. There’s not much dignity that a thin sheet of cloth can provide.

It also dilutes the scant facilities that are available to prisoners, like healthcare, under-resourced rehabilitation facilities, counselling services or access to legal aid.

Disease is readily contagious; water quality is compromised. There are no fans in some jails. Dated prison architecture relies on cross-ventilation in 40 degree-plus weather.

Pakistan’s prison population currently stands at 78,160. That is not an insignificant number, and has been ignored by not one, not two but three Nawaz governments. Many inmates have been in jail for all three of his terms.

Kanizan Bibi, who has been in jail since 1989, has watched him go from prime minister to former prime minister, back again to prime minister then political exile and again prime minister to now inmate.

Her mental illness has not precluded her from being on death row. Being tortured into signing a self-incriminating confession has had consequences only for her. And if she could talk (her illness, resulting from torture has rendered her mute), she could show Nawaz the ropes on how to survive prison.

Muhammad Anwar was arrested as a juvenile offender in 1993, right around the time that Nawaz resigned for the first time. He was sentenced to death six years later, and despite the 2001 Presidential Notification (that would have entitled him to remission) continues to languish on death row to this day.

Nawaz would do well to trace his history, and remember that during that entire time, Anwar was struggling to obtain justice from the same government he led.

Muhammad Iqbal was sentenced to death the same year that Nawaz denied General Musharraf’s plane permission to land.

From that day to now, Iqbal has grown from a 17-year-old boy to a man with no hope, who has spent more time in prison, than outside it.

Read next: Schizophrenic and on death row: the tragic case of ex-cop Khizar Hayat

Nawaz has lived whole lives, whole premierships and during that entire time, Iqbal has been entitled to be taken off death row but hasn’t.

And so the prisoners protested. The chanted slogans against him. They reminded him that he was now on their turf.

And they would be damned if they did not make him as uncomfortable to be there as possible.

Are you an activist working on prison reform? Share your expertise with us at



Slow start
Updated 15 Jun, 2024

Slow start

Despite high attendance, the NA managed to pass only a single money bill during this period.
Sindh lawlessness
Updated 15 Jun, 2024

Sindh lawlessness

A recently released report describes the law and order situation in Karachi as “worryingly poor”.
Punjab budget
15 Jun, 2024

Punjab budget

PUNJAB’S budget for 2024-25 provides much fodder to those who believe that the increased provincial share from the...
Budget and politics
Updated 14 Jun, 2024

Budget and politics

PML-N, scared of taking bold steps lest it loses whatever little public support it has, has left its traditional support — traders — virtually untouched.
New talks?
14 Jun, 2024

New talks?

WILL this prove another false start, or may we expect a more sincere effort this time? Reference is made to the...
A non-starter
14 Jun, 2024

A non-starter

WHILE the UN Security Council had earlier this week adopted a US-backed resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza...