THE recent execution of a Pakistani prisoner in China has brought to light the plight of a large number of Pakistani nationals languishing in different prisons in China, especially on charges of narcotics smuggling. The last ditch efforts of different human rights organisations and the family members of the deceased seeking clemency for him proved futile as the Chinese authorities turned down their pleas.

The deceased, Zahid Hussain, a 36-year-old resident of Khalabat Township of Haripur district, was a businessman by profession and was reportedly arrested in April 2008 by the Shanghai police on charges of narcotics smuggling and was sentenced to death in 2010. He was executed on Sept 21.

The family members of the deceased raised their voice asking the Pakistani government to put forward a request for saving his life, but they failed in their efforts. They had told different media organisations that the role of Pakistani government in raising issue of these prisoners was very discouraging and it was least interested in discussing the issue with the Chinese government.

Last year another Pakistani, Tariq, also hailing from Haripur was also executed on the same charge. A representative of the families whose relatives have been imprisoned in China, Ahsanullah Khan, told Dawn that there were around 2,000 Pakistani prisoners in China majority of whom belonged to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Most of the imprisoned Pakistanis were smalltime traders and arrested in Guangzhou, a town in China and were regular visitors. Most of them belong to poor social background and their family members believe that they were innocent and were trapped by gangs of drug traffickers.

Mr Ahsanullah, whose brother Khalil Khan has already spent seven years in a Chinese prison, said that these prisoners and their families had been facing several problems as they were not aware of the local legal system. “Language is one of the major barriers faced by the family members when they visit China to pursue the cases of their relatives,” he added.

Another affected person, Enayatur Rehman, claimed that his brother Shafiqur Rehman, who was also arrested on charges of drug pushing, was a heart patient and had also suffered a heart attack there. He claimed that they weren’t even aware where he was being kept.

Pakistan and China had signed an extradition treaty in Dec 2007 but the two governments were yet to ink any agreement regarding exchange of prisoners. Legal experts say that it was need of the hour to sign a treaty regarding exchange of prisoners so that these Pakistanis could be repatriated.

A member of the executive council of Supreme Court Bar Association, Noor Alam Khan, told Dawn that they had raised the issue on different forums and also requested the prime minister, but so far no one had taken interest in the issue.

Mr Alam said that governments of Pakistan and Thailand had signed an agreement on cooperation in the transfer of offenders and enforcement of penal sentences, which was enforced in Dec 2009. He claimed that in June last, around 22 Pakistani prisoners were repatriated from Thailand.

He added that on the same pattern an agreement should be signed with the Chinese government, which will help in ending the misery of hundreds of families.

Under the said agreement there are several conditions given for transferring a prisoner from one country to another. The conditions are: the prisoner is a national of the receiving state and not a national of the transferring state; the transfer has been consented to by the offender in writing; the offender has served in the transferring state any minimum period of imprisonment, confinement or any other for of deprivation of liberty stipulated by the law of the transferring state.

The family members of imprisoned persons claim that they also faced hardships because of visa problems.

They believe that without money nobody can pursue cases of their near and dear ones, especially when the Pakistani Embassy in China is also not cooperating in such cases.

Mr Ahsanullah said that President Asif Ali Zardari was a frequent visitor to China and he should raise this issue on humanitarian grounds. He added that the government must pay heed to the agony of these families.

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