Naureen Aqueel

Foreigners languishing in Pakistani jails

Posted on: April 28, 2008

Published in The Outlook (class newsletter), April-May 2008.

Hundreds of foreign prisoners are languishing in Pakistani jails since a number of years often beyond their awarded sentences or without trial. These foreign inmates belong to India, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kenya, Germany, Iran, Morocco, Romania, Burma, Tanzania, Lebanon and Bangladesh etc, according to various reports in the Pakistani press.

Majority of the foreigners in Pakistani prisons are Indians, usually fishermen who are arrested for intruding into Pakistani waters, according to Abdul Hai, field officer at Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). According to a recent report in The News, there are 641 Indians in Pakistani jails, out of which 436 are fishermen.

Afghans also make up a large percentage of foreign inmates in Pakistani jails. A report by U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI 2007) reveals that during 2006, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other bodies intervened in the cases of 148 detained Afghan refugees, who were mostly arrested under the Foreigners Act 1946 and Foreigners Order, which provide for the arrest and detention of undocumented aliens. Such acts are the main cause for hundreds of Afghan refugees being detained in Pakistani prisons. Other Afghans in Pakistani jails are usually arrested in antiterrorist operations.

While there are many complaints by NGOs about the miserable conditions in which foreign prisoners live in Pakistani jails, according to Abdul Hai the treatment of foreigners here is slightly better as compared to locals. “Foreigners are sometimes put in for educational activities in jails,” says Abdul Hai. “They also have slightly better prison cells and washrooms as they usually have separate sections. Prisoners of Europe and Africa usually get slightly better treatment, although Indians aren’t treated that well.”

Prisoners from Africa, Mexico and Europe are usually those arrested smuggling heroine/drugs. Those arrested are punished according to Pakistani laws. After completing their terms they are supposed to be sent back to their respective countries, but some remain detained in prisons even after the completion of their terms. HRCP and other NGOs help put the prisoners in touch with their respective embassies which help them to return to their country after completing their sentences by providing them tickets and legal aid etc.

Indian fishermen and Afghan refugees are often released on pressure from different organisations. Indian fishermen are often released in exchange for Pakistani fishermen who have also been arrested crossing the borders while fishing. Also, according to USCRI (2007) in February 2006, Pakistan released nearly 600 Afghans as a goodwill gesture to visiting President Karzai of Afghanistan.

With additional reporting by Asra Mustafa, Fatima bint-e-Razi, Farwa Jafari and Saman Nabiya.

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