ISLAMABAD: The Adiala jail deputy superintendent informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday that at present the jail housed more than 4,000 prisoners against the capacity of 1,500.

The court was hearing a case related to an ailing inmate Khadim Hussain who filed an application before the IHC seeking medical treatment.

Jail Deputy Superintendent Zaman Khan appeared before the court and in response to a query informed of the court that the prison was built for 1,500 inmates while today there were more than 4,000 prisoners were being incarcerated and that too in a miserable condition.

“This statement raises serious concerns regarding violation of human rights of prisoners which are constitutionally guaranteed,” observed the court.

The jail medical officer Dr Khalil Ahmed said before the court that the petitioner Khadim Hussain had been medically examined and his further examination was in progress.

Court was hearing petition filed by ailing prisoner seeking medical treatment

The court noticed that despite the issuance of prior notices, no one turned up from the health and human rights ministries. Subsequently, the court ordered the secretaries of both the ministries to “nominate respective officers, not lower in rank than joint secretaries to appear before this court today (Saturday)”.

Justice Minallah also sought the progress report on the commission constituted on Nov 22 aimed at ensuring civil liberties of prisoners.

The commission was headed by Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari with federal secretaries of interior and health, human right activists Zohra Yousuf and Ghazi Salahuddin, advocate Zia Awan, former FIA chief Tariq Khosa and the provincial chief secretaries as its members.

The court observed that the executive authorities were vested with power and jurisdiction under the Pakistan prison rules and the code of criminal procedure to address the grievances of prisoners suffering from serious illnesses.

The court pointed out that the United Nations committee on economic, social and cultural rights had declared health a fundamental right. And the international convention on civil and political rights provides that every human being has the inherent right to life and this right shall be protected by the law.

The sentence to jail deprives the prisoner of liberty and freedom while limiting some other rights, but the right to life has never been restricted or curtailed, rather heavy burden lies on the state to safeguard the right to life of a prisoner as the latter is entirely at its mercy.

Thus the federal government on behalf of the state has a constitutional duty and obligation to respect and enforce international treaties and conventions relating to safeguarding human rights and civil liberties.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2019