Imprisoned abroad

Published February 23, 2024

THE issue of Pakistani prisoners imprisoned in foreign jails crops up regularly, particularly during parliamentary debates, as lawmakers discuss ways to assist these unfortunate individuals. As highlighted during the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights’ meeting recently, over 23,000 Pakistanis are imprisoned abroad. While it is difficult to defend those who knowingly commit crimes on foreign soil, many people are victims of circumstance, or have to serve lengthy jail terms for petty offences due to their lack of knowledge of alien legal systems. Most Pakistani inmates abroad are detained in Saudi and Emirati jails, while a considerable number are prisoners in Greece, India and other states. The crimes these men and women are convicted of vary by region. For example, of the thousands of prisoners doing time in the Gulf states, most have been convicted on drug charges. Meanwhile, those in Greek prisons include migrants accused of immigration-related and illegal entry offences. In India, on the other hand, Pakistanis are doing time for illegal stay and inadvertently crossing the frontier; their ranks include fishermen who mistakenly cross the maritime boundary. As Justice Project Pakistan, an advocacy group, points out, in many cases Pakistanis abroad do not have access to due process, and are not provided ‘impartial’ translators and counsel.

Those travelling abroad must be informed by the state that drug trafficking and illegal migration can entail harsh penalties, including capital punishment and lengthy jail terms. Moreover, those imprisoned or being tried abroad need to be given full consular access, and represented by lawyers who are fully conversant with local laws. In this regard, the Uniform Consular Protection Policy should be implemented without delay, while agreements need to be inked with more states so that convicts can complete their sentences in Pakistan. Particular attention should be given to Pakistani prisoners in India, as due to frayed bilateral ties, Pakistanis in that country are at the mercy of a hostile legal system.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2024

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