THERE are a number of questions surrounding Mian Javed Ahmed’s death on Friday.

The former CEO of the University of Sargodha’s Lahore campus died of sudden cardiac arrest in jail; he was in detention in connection with a NAB investigation. Mr Ahmed’s family has claimed he was not taken to hospital by the jail staff despite complaining of ill health on Friday morning.

There has also been an outcry after pictures of the university official’s body in chains and handcuffs made it to the social and then mainstream media.

The Punjab chief minister has ordered an inquiry into the incident while NAB claims “it did not have a role” in Mr Ahmed’s death.

Indeed, NAB and the Punjab jail authorities need to explain what happened in this case. In particular, answers need to be furnished regarding why Mr Ahmed’s body was in chains and handcuffs.

The death of the university official in custody also raises questions about the general treatment of prisoners or those under trial in Pakistan. While at this time all we can say is that negligence by the authorities concerned may have contributed to Mr Ahmed’s health condition, the truth is that the state gives scant respect to the rights of individuals undergoing trial or those already convicted.

Death in custody is not uncommon here; only last month there was an incident in which a man facing a NAB hearing died in jail. Sometimes such deaths occur due to brutal methods inflicted by the law enforcers, at other times, it is neglect of detainees’ health or inhuman conditions in lock-ups and jails that causes fatalities.

While there is often talk of reforming the criminal justice system, this task will remain incomplete until those in custody are treated in a humane manner, and their fundamental rights are fully respected.

It is incumbent on the concerned provincial and federal authorities to investigate such deaths and to ensure that prisoners are not deprived of their rights.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2018

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