Releasing prisoners

October 12, 2019

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THE Saudi government’s decision to release 579 Pakistani prisoners is a welcome step towards the fulfilment of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s promise of freeing some 2,100 Pakistanis incarcerated in various cities of the kingdom. Most of the released prisoners were charged with drug trafficking, stealing, forgery, bribery and illegal border crossing, while one person was allegedly involved in a case of rape. Since the crown prince’s visit to Pakistan in February this year, the Saudi government has also released around 3,400 Pakistanis who they held in various deportation camps. However, much more remains to be done in terms of improving the transparency of Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system.

Since the beginning of this year, at least 26 Pakistanis accused of various crimes have been executed by the kingdom. The victims included a married couple charged with trying to smuggle drugs into the country and a labourer who spent eight years in jail before meeting his end. According to Justice Project Pakistan, more than 2,800 Pakistanis still remain incarcerated in Saudi Arabia. A majority of people who get into trouble with the kingdom’s appalling criminal justice system belong to poor working-class families who often get used by sub-agents, either by deception or force, or are pilgrims preyed upon by racketeers. They do not have access to any legal or consular representation and are unable to understand the nature of the crimes they have been accused of committing, because the judicial proceedings take place in a foreign language. The kingdom’s criminal justice system operates through a series of very opaque regulations that are often swiftly executed through blanket decrees, such as the beheading of 37 people in a single day in April. Maybe, Prime Minister Imran Khan, with his new role as an intermediary between Saudi Arabia and Iran, can reiterate his concern about the fate of Pakistanis jailed in Saudi Arabia, and persuade its leadership to grant a fair trial to prisoners and revisit their archaic criminal justice system.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2019