Less than 5% of pardoned prisoners have returned from Saudi Arabia, JPP tells LHC
Lahore: Justice Project Pakistan on Friday informed the Lahore High Court that only 89 Pakistani prisoners have returned from Saudi Arabia following Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s promise to release 2,107 prisoners in February this year. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had earlier stated 579 of them had come back home.
During the hearing of Asma Shafi vs the Federation of Pakistan, Barrister Sarah Belal told Honourable Justice Ayesha Malik that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman arrived in Pakistan on an official visit in February 2019 or the sixth month, Jumada al-Thani, of the Islamic year 1440. During his trip, he announced to release 2,107 Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. However, only 89 or less than 5 per cent of those entitled to be freed under the royal pardon, have returned home since then.
The court had earlier ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to submit details of prisoners who had returned from the Kingdom while hearing a petition filed by JPP on behalf of 10 Pakistanis imprisoned in Gulf countries. In response, the government submitted details of 579 Pakistanis who had returned from jails in Saudi Arabia. The list, however, reveals that most of the prisoners had been released prior to the announcement, with many of them having come back in the previous Islamic year of 1439.
Justice Ayesha Malik then asked deputy attorney general Ambreen Moin to tally the number of prisoners with their dates of return and apprise the court in the next hearing.
The petition filed by JPP seeks to enforce the fundamental rights of Pakistani citizens facing execution in jails across the Gulf countries. According to documents submitted earlier by the Ministry of Interior in the Lahore High Court, nearly 11,000 Pakistanis are languishing in foreign jails. These destitute Pakistanis face the harshest punishments due to their lack of understanding of and assistance with the legal process, incapability to communicate directly with the court, and inability to produce evidence from Pakistan in their defence. Despite these circumstances, there is no consular policy in place and the fate of imprisoned Pakistanis rests at the discretion of individual embassies.
The government of Pakistan has an obligation, under international law and the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens imprisoned around the world.