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Saudi Arabia executes Pakistani couple on drug-related charges

Updated April 11, 2019

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JPP says Saudi Arabia executes more Pakistanis than any other foreign nationality,  despite being a close regional ally. ─ Dawn/File
JPP says Saudi Arabia executes more Pakistanis than any other foreign nationality, despite being a close regional ally. ─ Dawn/File

Saudi Arabia's interior ministry has announced that two Pakistani nationals, a husband-and-wife duo, were executed on Thursday after being found guilty by its courts of smuggling heroin into the Kingdom.

The country's ministry, in a press release, stated that Muhammad Mustafa and Fatima Ijaz were "arrested when they smuggled a quantity of heroin".

The case was referred to the court where an investigation led to the indictment of the accused, said the Saudi ministry, adding that the punishment was also supported by the court of appeals as well as the supreme court.

Therefore, the ministry said, a royal order to implement the death sentences were issued, and the duo were executed in Jeddah.

JPP condemns 'unprecedented' execution of Pakistani woman

Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) condemned the development, especially the "unprecedented execution of first Pakistani woman in five years".

The human rights organisation said it was "outraged" at the executions, which it noted came "despite the fact that the two nations are currently negotiating a prisoner transfer agreement".

The JPP press release said that the capital punishments carried out on Thursday also included a third Pakistan named Abdul Maalik, who was not mentioned in the Saudi ministry's announcement.

"These executions are particularly worrying in the face of the announcement by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in February this year to release 2,107 Pakistanis imprisoned in the Kingdom," JPP noted, adding that "the promise has yet to be fulfilled as only 250 Pakistani prisoners have returned so far."

"There has been a sharp rise in executions of Pakistani nationals following the announcement," it added.

JPP further said that it is common for "low-paid labourers to be trapped by rogue Overseas Employment Promoters and forced to transport drugs on Saudi-bound flights".

"They are completely abandoned by their government once they are arrested," the press release adds.

"Saudi Arabia has executed more than 100 Pakistanis in the past five years," it said. "Despite being a close regional ally, the Kingdom executes more Pakistanis than any other foreign nationality, with 20 executions in 2014, 22 in 2015, seven in 2016, 17 in 2017, 30 in 2018 and 14 this year so far. More Pakistanis are imprisoned in Saudi Arabia than any other country in the world, with the total exceeding 3,300 Pakistanis."

The human rights NGO also identified the legal problems facing Pakistani nationals in the kingdom. "Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi Arabia are at the mercy of local courts without access to lawyers, impartial translators, or consular assistance from the Pakistani diplomatic missions," it said.

"These destitute Pakistanis face the harshest punishments due to their lack of understanding of and assistance with the legal process, incapability to communicate directly with the court, and inability to produce evidence from Pakistan in their defense.

"In most instances, the families of death row prisoners are not notified prior to their execution, depriving family members and loved ones the chance of a final goodbye. The bodies of those executed are also not returned — which is a gross violation of all legal and moral protocols, and Islamic injunctions."

JPP Executive Director Sarah Belal urged the government to "utilise all diplomatic channels to compel the Saudi government to halt the executions of Pakistanis facing the harshest punishment".

Clarification: JPP has reached out to clarify that the line 'They are completely abandoned by their government once they are arrested' from the press release refers to previous governments, adding: "JPP is engaging with the current government on these issues and expects a positive outcome in the near future."