Harassing passengers

Published May 26, 2022

REPORTS of the confiscation of personal items from passengers’ private luggage by customs officials at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport defy comprehension. That the officials would not know the difference between commercial imports and private luggage, and, in fact, resort to bragging about the quantity of personal items — such as chocolates and cellphones — confiscated by them is absurd. According to news reports, scores of branded pairs of shoes, over 200 cellphones and more than 100kg of fruit, amongst other items, were seized from the unsuspecting passengers since an order was issued last week to ban the import of 38 luxury and non-essential goods in a bid to stabilise foreign reserves. In some cases, the officials even took away items already in use. One woman, for example, reported that not even a cellphone that she had used for over two years was spared.

Even though Finance Minister Miftah Ismail later clarified via Twitter that the action taken by the customs officials was to check the activities of smugglers who pose as private citizens, it is unlikely that they would not know the difference between those bringing in banned goods and overseas Pakistanis visiting family or citizens returning after a vacation or business trip. It is also worth asking on what grounds were such measures authorised — measures which amount to harassment of citizens and the violation of their basic rights. The ban on the import of luxury and non-essential items had been imposed by the state to arrest the flight of capital. It makes no sense to seize items brought by citizens who were already outside the country. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm to police the private lives of citizens is part of a time-honoured tradition of our law-enforcement agencies. There are multiple examples where the rights of citizens have been trampled upon on the pretext of national interest or a simplistic understanding of short-term bans. The authorities need to put a stop to this violation of rights at the earliest, while also working on effective ways to nab the real smugglers.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2022

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