ISLAMABAD: Amid an imminent threat of spread of coronavirus, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday ordered the release of under-trial prisoners (UTPs) detained in Rawalpindi’s overcrowded Adiala jail in minor crimes and directed the Islamabad police not to make arrest in petty matters.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued the directives while taking up a petition based on a report of the high court’s judicial branch on Islamabad-based UTPs.
According to the report, the authorised occupancy of the Central Prison Adiala, Rawalpindi, is 2,174 while the number of its present inmates is 5,001. The number of under-trial prisoners whose cases are pending before courts under the jurisdiction of this high court is 1,362. Most of the incarcerated UTPs are alleged to have committed offences which fall within the ambit of non-prohibitory clause.
Subsequently, the court summoned the Islamabad deputy commissioner, officials of the health ministry and Islamabad police. They stated that pursuant to declaration of “Public Emergency of International Concern” by the World Health Organisation regarding challenges posed by the deadly coronavirus outbreak, the Pakistan government had formulated a comprehensive national action plan.
Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat was asked about the policy relating to persons incarcerated in jails, particularly those whose cases are pending before courts under the jurisdiction of the Islamabad High Court. He said the policy was to reduce the number of inmates and regulate visitation of those prisoners who could not be released.
Directs Islamabad police not to make arrest in petty matters
The court observed that the prisoners were vulnerable and exposed to suffer irreparably in case of an outbreak. Prisons, which were overcrowded, had high turnover and intolerable living conditions, could potentially become epicenters for outbreak of the deadly virus, it said. The federal government has, therefore, justifiably adopted the policy of reducing the population of prisons in order to meet the challenges posed by the invisible enemy — coronavirus.
The court ordered the release of “under-trial prisoners alleged to have committed offences falling within the ambit of the non-prohibitory clause are admitted to bail, subject to furnishing such surety or security as may be deemed appropriate by an officer authorised in this regard by the Deputy Commissioner, Islamabad Capital Territory”. The deputy commissioner would, in consultation with in-charge of the police station concerned, ensure that the release on bail would not pose threat to public safety, the order said.
Justice Minallah clarified that those UTPs who were earlier refused bail might also get benefit of this order.
The court also set guidelines which stated that before the release of prisoners proper screening would be conducted by the officials nominated by the Ministry of National Health Services. The court ordered the release of entitled UTPs by March 24.
“The Inspector General of Police and the Deputy Commissioner, Islamabad Capital Territory, shall ensure that unnecessary arrests are not made by the Investigating Officers having regard to the law laid down by the august Supreme Court,” the court order said.
The court sought a reply from the federal government on the screening of passengers.
CAA directives challenged
A petition filed in the IHC against the CAA directives pointed out that the report of coronavirus test was issued in 24 hours and the directives issued in this regard had created problems for those Pakistanis who were travelling to the country from other parts of the world.
The Civil Aviation Authority had on March 17 made it mandatory for international passengers coming to Pakistan to provide coronavirus test results prior to boarding their flights.
The petition said the notification issued by the CAA was unreasonable and against the spirit of Article 15 of the Constitution that ensured freedom of movement.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, after a preliminary hearing, directed the federal government to place this matter in the upcoming meeting of the National Security Committee. The court also directed the secretary of Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis to depute an authorised person for the court’s assistance.
The court sought justification for issuance of the said order and adjourned the hearing to March 23.
Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2020