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When looking for a better life ends in a death sentence in Saudi Arabia

To date, Farooq’s family has not been officially notified of his arrest and detention.

Updated Oct 08, 2019 02:15pm

A plague struck Sargodha in 1903.

To this day, people tell tales of how tens of thousands of people lost their lives as they lay wasted by disease. A curse to mankind.

Over a century later, Mohammad Farooq* lies wasting thousands of miles away from his hometown in Sargodha — in a prison cell, condemned to death. A sentence he wish he didn’t contract. A death in return for his dreams. Dreams of marrying off his infant daughter when she came of age.

But only nightmares come true for the poor, even when they begin as a dream.

Illiterate and unskilled, Farooq drove a rickshaw to support his family, the three wheels of his vehicle rolling on, barely pushing forward the lives of his pregnant wife and daughter.

Overworked and underpaid, Farooq didn’t have the time to dream, but his father, Abdul Samad*, did. He had three sons and a daughter, and he wanted for them a life better than his.

So when, in 2010, two men approached him as overseas employment promoters, Samad was adamant to make something of it, for Farooq to have dreams of his own.

Condemned unheard: On death row abroad

The agents, Allah Ditta and Mazhar Abbas, asked for Rs150,000. They told Samad they would take his son to Saudi Arabia. Farooq, just 26 years old at the time, would make a life in the desert kingdom. Their lives in Sargodha would bloom as a result.

It was no ordinary sum of money for a family with their limited means. The rickshaw had to be sold, along with everything else of value the family owned. It was the price they had to pay for their future, for the future of Farooq’s children.

The money bought a visa and travel documents. In May that year, just before floods wreaked havoc in plains across the country, Allah Ditta and Abbas took Farooq to Karachi, the City of Lights that was soon to plunge Farooq’s life into darkness.

He spent the next few days there. The heat and humidity in Karachi can be oppressive in May, but for Farooq, a far more dangerous fire was raging within.

He had to make a decision: risking his own life and the lives of his family, or do as the agents told him to. He did as he was told.

Farooq swallowed capsules of heroin that were to remain in his stomach until it was safe to excrete them. He then boarded a plane.

There were no final goodbyes. His family did not drop him off at the airport. His daughter did not ask him to get her presents when he returned. He did not tell his expecting wife to take care of herself and the baby.

The only familiar faces were unfriendly ones: Allah Ditta and Abbas forcing him to get on the flight. He was told someone would come collect him there. It turned out to be the Saudi authorities.

Farooq was arrested immediately upon his arrival in Riyadh. A trial was conducted in Arabic with no legal counsel for the defendant. Only some portions of the hearings were translated for him.

Upon his refusal to sign a confession in a language he did not understand, Farooq was given a month to file his objection. Relying on the generosity of fellow prisoners who spoke Arabic, he managed to submit an objection on time but was denied the fundamental right to appear in his defence or engage legal counsel.

He was sentenced to death by beheading less than two months later — around the same time his second daughter was born.

The girls are now 11 and nine years old. It has been nearly a decade since Farooq was first imprisoned. Since then, he has been transferred to Al-Ha’ir Prison from Malaz Prison, where he was initially kept.

Footprints: On the death row in Saudi Arabia

He calls his family back home frequently. I ask Samad what the conversations are like and what Farooq’s daughters say to him, but he falls silent. The silence of the state has silenced him too.

After Farooq’s arrest, Samad registered a First Information Report against Allah Ditta and Abbas, but both men were released a year and a half later.

He then sent appeals to the president, prime minister and chief minister. He never heard back from them either.

To date, no official notification has been issued by the government to inform Farooq’s family about his arrest and detention, nor has any meaningful effort been made to ensure justice for Farooq or to enforce his rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, or the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam.

Samad does not know of these conventions. He does not care for them either. In a recent conversation on the phone, he asks me if there is any hope at all that his son will be spared. I can only respond with silence.

A plague struck Sargodha in 2010. But no one seems to know what to say.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

Read a detailed report by Justice Project Pakistan on this topic, Through the Cracks: The Exploitation of Pakistani Migrant Workers in the Gulf Recruitment Regime

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Author Image

Ali Haider Habib was the Senior Assistant Editor of the Herald between April 2016 and April 2019. He currently works for Justice Project Pakistan and moonlights as a musician. He tweets @haiderhabib

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

Apr 23, 2019 04:48pm
It is horrible, what celebrities are doing? Can they not save life of an innocent person?
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Mujahid Ali Khan
Apr 23, 2019 05:07pm
I am saddened and appalled after reading the above story. How the authorities concerned can be so callous, careless and inhuman about such cases both in Pakistan and abroad. ? What is the so-called Islamic state doing for such citizens ? Have we become so immune and senseless to such cases ? Will please some one from the Foreign Ministry for from any where take up such cases to resolve them so that the suffering families can be relieved of their daily living torture ?
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Apr 23, 2019 07:51pm
Really sad. Our government should care about its citizen. How can the PM be notified anda requested to look into this matter?
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Apr 23, 2019 09:30pm
I do not admire our huge, heartless neighbour one bit, but when it comes to taking care of their civilians especially in inhuman prisons like KSA, they are second to none. Why cannot our leaders care a bit more for our innocent poor? After all, they are supposedly equal Pakistani citizens too. The heart ached in envy for the neighbour when we saw a humongous operation to bring back stranded citizens from Syria, including our Pakistani brethren and many first world nations. Let us at the least show our people that we care.
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John hoffman
Apr 23, 2019 11:00pm
Heart wrenching story. Why can't those culprits be arrested who run this racket
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Apr 24, 2019 12:04am
But, why did Farooq swallow the heroin capsules?
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Apr 24, 2019 02:15am
Heartbreaking. God only knows what he has gone through and is going through in Saudi prisons. They aren't exactly known for their kindness. We should ban Pakistani citizens from working in arab countries. Like Indonesia did. They got tired of having their citizens abused, tortured. imprisoned and deported. Nothing is worth this humiliation and torture. Nothing.
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Apr 24, 2019 02:28am
@John hoffman, because the government, customs, police everybody is on it. It's called corruption...
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Apr 24, 2019 02:31am
Such a Shame, that Saudia Arabia, does not want to investigate any further and get to the depth of it and have Pakistani authorities arrest the real culprits rather than executing these poor people. Executing people like this and now further investigations is a criminal act itself. One needs to give a fair chance to prove his or her innocence, before you declare one a criminal. Pakistan Government wants to be so lame in this game.
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Apr 24, 2019 07:51am
@Khalid_Toronto, you will perhaps do the same in given circumstances. Show some sympathy towards people who are deprived and less fortunate.
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Apr 24, 2019 09:41am
@Khalid_Toronto, sitting in Canada, you can't even think of putting yourself in his shoes. His parents sold off everything for a prospective job. In KHI he must be thinking either take this chance or go back to Sargodha and see his disappointed parents with all their assets gone and no possible income.
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Apr 24, 2019 11:06am
It's very said and painful story. Indeed every poor see dream for their family to give them better life, therefore, they can take any risk which is against law and have to pay price. Not merely culprit has to pay the price but whole family, friends and country as well. I fail to understand that why Pakistani airport authorities fail to arrest on our airport? how they easily fly and arrested abroad. It show incapability and incompetency of airport authorities here in Pakistan.
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Saqib ghumman
Apr 24, 2019 11:07am
Ignorance, greed and no awareness of criminal acts have led to those events, a lesson to be learnt. A man of 26 yrs with family can refuse to swallow or atleast consult with somebody or if he is forced then let authorities in Pakistan know etc. He unfortunatkey did not do any of them and found guilty..
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Apr 24, 2019 11:36am
@Khalid_Toronto, Exactly. He had a choice. While screening through airport he could have let ANF know and saved his life. He could have been handed out a reward for cooperating with authorities. No rikshaw driver or camel herder will be reading this. But the message to spread is, don't risk your life becoming a mule. Not worth the money.
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Apr 24, 2019 12:33pm
Very damning of the system. Poor human beings are slaughtered with no body to help them.
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Apr 24, 2019 03:24pm
Had he been an Indian, Sushma Swaraj would have done something.
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Apr 24, 2019 05:55pm
Corruption is the root cause of these problems.
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Apr 24, 2019 06:40pm
Saudi Arabia and Israel have one thing in common.There are no human rights,dissent is not allowed and both countries are just a large prison camp if you disagree on anything with the authorities.
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Apr 25, 2019 12:15am
@Talat, Does that justify narcotics smuggling???
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