Pakistan: A Call For Prison Reforms

First appeared on DAWN blog


They kept us for one month in the police station. There were about 25 to 30 people in the lockup. When there were more, we couldn’t lie down. Whenever it rained, water use to seep in from the roof. There were no windows. I was beaten all over my body, and the investigating officer demanded Rs. 50,000 to release me.”

Taher Hassan was 15 years old at the time of his arrest, and when he shared horrific stories of torture, abuse, and prolonged detention with the Human Rights Watch team surveying the condition of inmates in Pakistan.

According to the April 2009 statistics available at the Inspectorate of Prisons, there are currently 1,662 children in detention all across the county; 123 have been convicted while 1,539 are still awaiting trial. Violating the 2008 ruling of the Federal Shariah Court, 110 of the 123 convicted have been awarded rigorous imprisonment. Blatant violations of children’s right to education, health and protection under legal detention have been well documented by various rights organisations.

The case of Zeeshan Budd is a staunch reminder of the kind of abuse faced by inmates in detention. Zeeshan, a 17-year-old, was picked up on the evening of January 17, 2008, in the jurisdiction of Shah Lateef Town in Punjab. He was not informed of the charges against him, his family was not told of his arrest that night, and he was neither sent to a remand home nor appointed a probation officer, which is required under Pakistan’s Juvenile Justice System Ordinance. Instead, he was stripped at the police station, beaten and interrogated, during which time three officers raped him. A video of the rape was recorded on an officer’s mobile phone.

When the police contacted the family the next day, Zeeshan’s grandmother Kulsoom Akhter agreed to pay Rs. 50,000, half the requested bribe demanded by the officers to release Zeeshan. However, even after the payment was made, the boy was kept in detention, sent to court, and the officers distributed parts of the video of his rape to internet cafes close to the boy’s family’s home.

Such gruesome treatment is not limited to juveniles alone. Another survey suggests that in the Punjab alone nearly 78 per cent of women prisoners complained of maltreatment in police custody and 72 per cent complained of sexual abuse. Most of these women become pregnant and deliver in the absence of pre- and post-natal care. Sexual abuse has also resulted in cases of HIV transmission and the spread of other STDs for which these prisoners are never treated.

A recent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report expresses concern over deteriorating conditions in Pakistani jails. According to the report, 4,651 prisoners were housed in Lahore camp jail, which has a capacity for 1,050 individuals. Indeed, overcrowding remains one of the most crucial issues faced by inmates in jails across the country. As a result, prisoners are required to sleep on the floor and unhygienic conditions give rise to infectious disease like TB and scabies.

Besides suffering the agony of living in extremely cramped quarters, prisoners charged with minor crimes are kept in the same quarters as hardened outlaws. Ultimately, most of them leave embittered by their experiences and armed with the knowledge needed to begin a career in the crime world.

Still, we see little or no outcry regarding the inhumane treatment of inmates within our country. I sense sheer hypocrisy when Pakistanis turn out on the roads to protest against torture in Bargram and Gitmo. The fact is, torture in custody in Pakistan is extremely common, and innocent persons are, at times, forced to admit to crimes they never committed. The majority is confined to prison cells, awaiting trial for years, in some cases without their families even being informed of their arrest or imprisonment.

Introspection is therefore important before we speak up against torture and illegal detentions elsewhere in the world. Despite rulings by the Federal Shariah Court in August last year, little effort has been made to recognise the fundamental rights of prisoners. The authorities need to take substantial steps to turn our jails into reform centres, rather than letting them fester as breeding grounds for criminals. Across the world, libraries, schools, skill workshops, and vocational training courses are available in prisons, which are treated more as correctional and reform centres than torture cells. Ironically, most of these facilities available at limited prisons in Pakistan aren’t facilitated by the state, and are instead run by voluntary organisations.

Ali Abbas Zaidi, founder of one of the largest youth organisations in Pakistan, is currently working on one such project. “Thousands of children are languishing in jails throughout Pakistan, sometimes guilty of being used by criminals as hands for minor robberies, and sometimes being born to mothers who are serving sentences,” says Zaidi. “Either way, they are time-bombs and we have to own them as children of our society. If the government is unable to stop sexual abuse and give them educational facilities, we as civil society should come forward in saving these time-bombs from exploding.” With this mission further in place, Zaidi is working towards establishing an educational facility for children at Kot Lakpat jail, Lahore, which will be replicated in other jails across the country if it succeeds.

But much more must be done. The sexual abuse, torture, and murders that occur in police custody in Pakistan must be stopped. A conscientious sweep of the policing system is long overdue. Individuals in police custody often emerge brutally scarred – emotionally and physically – and the government must determine how the situation has worsened so that steps can be taken to rectify the problem. Moreover, a nationwide clarification of acceptable interrogation methods is necessary. And once convicted, for starters, inmates should be provided with basic medical, psychiatric, and skill-development facilities. It is only by reforming our prisons that we can begin to address the prevalence of crime in Pakistani society.


5 thoughts on “Pakistan: A Call For Prison Reforms

  1. Is this all true ?
    It means a lot of reforms required in our armed forces courts?

    As per our holy Book God can for forgive the sins but not torture/zulum carrired out on other innocent people.
    May God give us strength and belive to follow the just and true path.

  2. Prisons can turn out be the breeding grounds for extremist elements. As many militants if kept with regular prisoners try to influence them with propaganda. It is important that the militants are kept in seclusion and they go through an elaborate rehab program so that they can return back to society without any fear.


    Story of Terrorised PAF Airmen victims of Musharraf Regime

    CIVILIANS can express their sentiments through demonstrations protest congregations and press conferences. But being an armed forces personnel even delay or relent in complying with an order is an offence. You have no choice you have to do or die and are not supposed to ask “why”?Controversial war on terror which was joined by one of history’s most notorious despot and venol General without consensus of the nation spread an anger and resentment in armed forces as well as across the nation.Ironic curtain of armed forces never leak any news of its defamation.There were some of the patriots in PAF who never welcomed the Nato and US forces at PAF Air Bases.Who could not help expressing their sentiments.They denied to guard alien aircrafts.They become the forthright critics of Parvaiz Musharraf anti-Islamic and anti-Pakistan policies.They voted “No” in referendum of 2002 considering it a way to save Pakistan’s ideology.Such type of their actions infuriated the loyals of despot in secret services and then what happened?They were subjected to disappearance form their duty places by Special Investigation Branch (SIB).In habeas corpus,they faced humiliation brutal and barbaric torture and coercive interrogation tactics such as denude beating, flogging,sleep deprivation etc by pervert torturers.One corporal Hashmat of Kohat of Risalpur airbase lost his life while suffering torture in PAF custody at AHQ Islamabad.For obtaining confessional statements of uncommitted crimes they were beaten into submission.They were told that their families are in custody of the secret agencies.They were threatened to cooperate and make a confessional statement as per direction or otherwise your wives would be raped. Finally driven by torture and pressure they made confessional statements after 130 days of their disappearance of the heinous crimes they never committed.They were court-martialled by biased prejudiced and military chauvinist PAF officers tribunal after 21 months of their disappearance.The trial was declared secret and proceedings were tampered in the name of confidentiality.No incriminating evidence or pertaining to the case was brought against them. All witnesses were “primed,” who were detained and disappeared airmen indeed, and their reinstatement to the duties was linked with prosecution’s desired evidence. Some of them turned “hostile”. In reprisel of turning hostile, they were also court-martialled and sentenced.6 airmen were framed-up with fake charges of Jhanda Chichi bridge bomb blast of 14Dec2004.Their plaintiff was the then president and army chief.So these all described elements resulted in a terrible miscarriage of justice, and they finally awarded death punishment because “law goes as king pleases”.From the whole procedure of court-martial in 2005 until now they are manacled in shackles and bar-fetters.No one can imagine the tribulation of a condemned prisoner because what the eye does not see the heart does not grieve over.Since their disappearance in 2004,they are facing perpetual apprehensions, persecution, torture and human nights abuses. They are deprived of even from their basic and inalienable constitutional rights, in the security.Doors of higher civil courts are closed for them because Supreme Court in a ruling in Sep 2006 rejecting their appeal, said that the higher civil courts had not authority to hear appeal against courtmartial’s verdicts. But, this ill treatment exists only for them on the behest of hidden elements.Captain Usman Ameer’s death sentence was revoked by apex court on 22nd may 2008, which was awarded by FGCM earlier. Lt. Colonel Munir Ahmed Gul was acquitted and restored to duty by LHC on 12th Jan. 2009, who had been sentenced to 2years RI by FGCM. Civilian Imran Munir was released by Supreme Court in July 2007, who had been sentenced to 8 years RI by FGCM. Civilian contractor Ghulam Abbas’s sentence was quashed by SC on 8th May 2009.He was awarded 23 year RI by PAF FGCM in jet fuel corruption case.Is it not the paradox of judiciary?Still, they are deprived of the copies of their trial proceedings. Is it not ironic, that some airmen, to be hanged, even cannot see their conviction proceedings?Verdicts of civil courts including apex court, can be challenged, criticized, blamed with biasing and prejudice. Their punishments can be termed as harsh, cruel and political and sometime called “judicial killing” such as in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s case. But armed forces and their courts are “sacred cows.”Unaware of criminal law careless of constitution,armed forces officers’ verdicts can not be challenged.One should recall army roll in Pak history.It means that wisdom of an armed forces officer is worthy than a full bench of Supreme Court in criminal cases.Was ZAB’s crucification a “judicial killing”? A matter, going to be settled. ZAB’s trial was less prejudiced by military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq than airmen’s trial because courts and judges were civilians al least and that was an open trial. But in airmen’s case tribunal was consist of PAF Musharraf’s loyal officers, trial was “top secret” and plaintiff was the then head of the state and military chief.More than 200 PAF and army personnel were subjected to disappearance in 2004. All were detained for more than 18 months without charges. They all were declared “High profile terrorists” and sent to Civil high security jails designed & funded by CIA,in style of Guantanamo bay x-ray camps.What a ridiculous, these airmen joined airforce in their teenages,long before “war on terror”. Assuming the fact that they are “high profile terrorists” means that armed forces are the massive producer of terrorists.What these oppressed, ill-fated an unlucky airmen want actually?They want that their case should be remitted for rehearing, in open court, before an impartial tribunal of Supreme Court judges.They seek legal redress for maltreatment,unjust and unfair conviction.ZAB and Nawaz Sharif,s cases are going to be re-opened. For what? To prove their innocence. Will somebody dare to claim the crucification of Sepoy Islam Siddiqui a “military’s judicial killing” and will some one raise the question why corporal technician was tortured to death???By: Adnan RashidCondemned PrisonerEx Junior Technician of PAFPak No. 862476A courtmartialed convict of1st attempt on Musharraf life Case.And other convicts are :Ex-chief Technician Khalid Mehmood Pak/851866 Condemned PrisonerEx-senior Technician Karam Din Pak/ 854096 Lifer.Ex-corporal Tech Nawazish Pak/489906 Condenmed prisoner.Ex-Junior Tech Niaz Muhammad Pak/860186 Condemned prisoner.Ex-junior Tech Nasrullah Pak/865001 Lifer

    1. Is this true and if it is true.
      This is very unfortunate and tragic.

      It means that our Armed Forces Courts require change. Justice must previal otherwise, we as a nation will collaspe and I thought the armed forces have still some thing holding the country together.
      May God give his courage/belive to adhere for right path.
      God can forgive many sins but zulum/torture on other people will not be tolerated.

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