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ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel was informed on Tuesday that the total number of Pakistanis facing imprisonment in foreign countries stands at 23,456, of whom 15,587 are convicted and 7,869 are under trial.

In a briefing to the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights which held its meeting here with Walid Iqbal in the chair, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said that most of the above-mentioned prisoners are in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, India, and China.

The committee sought details from the ministry about the release of 2,100 Pakistani prisoners agreed by Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman during his visit to Pakistan on the request of the then prime minister Imran Khan.

Senator Iqbal highlighted the non-existence of a uniform consular protection policy in light of the government’s constitutional duty to ensure due process of law for all citizens of Pakistan wherever they might be.

He recalled that the then Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court (LHC) had directed the formulation of a uniform consular protection policy in his judgment in the Asma Shafi case in 2017.

However, despite the passage of seven years, no such policy has been formulated which is unfortunate.

The committee directed the Foreign Affairs Ministry to formulate the uniform consular protection policy within the next 90 days and procure government approval for its implementation.

The ministries for foreign affairs and interior officials informed the committee that Pakistan had entered into prisoner transfer agreements with 11 countries, 10 of which were fully effective and one was under process as it is yet to be ratified by a foreign government.

The copies of the 11 prisoner transfer agreements were also presented before the Committee.

The committee observed that, while these were government-to-government agreements, their intended beneficiaries were citizens of Pakistan; therefore, they should be easily accessible and publicly available to everyone.

The committee, unanimously, recommended that all present and future prisoner transfer agreements be placed on the websites of the ministries of interior, human rights, overseas Pakistanis, and law and justice.

The committee was briefed by National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Chairperson Nilofer Bakhtiar on the state of implementation of UN-approved Bangkok Rules across Pakistan involving the treatment of women prisoners and detainees.

In its previous meeting, the committee had also called for facts and figures on the said subject. The NCSW chairperson said that there are currently 13,065 women prisoners in the country, with 12,258 women under trial, 767 convicted, and 40 women on death row.

She further added that around 60 per cent of total prisoners in Punjab are under trial. Moreover, NCSW played a crucial role in arranging weekly family meetings and ensuring better facilities for women prisoners, she added.

She also said that NCSW had ensured that five of the well-known imprisoned women political activists, namely, Dr Yasmeen Rashid (289 days), Sanam Javed (289 days), Aliya Hamza (289 days), Fehmida Begum (269 days), and Ayesha Bhutta (195 days) continued to be treated in accordance with the Bangkok Rules.

The panel also discussed the Supreme Court’s judgments authored by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, in Tahira Batool Case (2022) and Mst Ghazala Case (2023), in which it had been declared and ordered, in light of Section 497(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, that women, underage, and sick/infirm under-trial prisoners, must be granted bail.

The committee also, unanimously, recommended to the NCSW chairperson to inquire into the matter and report back to the committee on whether bail had been sought by these women activists, and if so, why they still remained in jail for so long despite above-mentioned rulings by the apex court.

The Senate body was also given a briefing by the secretary for the Ministry of Human Rights on the upcoming periodic report of Pakistan involving the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was to be presented in March 2024.

The panel was apprised that ICCPR aims to ensure the protection of civil and political rights, and Pakistan has accordingly been asked to report on the key issues of gender equality, violence against women, sexual and reproductive rights, prohibition of torture, overcrowding of jails, child marriage, same-sex union, abolition of the death penalty, enforced disappearances, right to privacy, freedom of assembly, military courts, and child rights.

However, Pakistan has a different set of beliefs on the issue of the death penalty and same-sex union, the secretary Human Rights Ministry said, adding the Human Rights Ministry has conducted consultative sessions with stakeholders to obtain relevant information, and a detailed report will be forwarded to the Foreign Affairs Ministry for onward transmission to the ICCPR committee next month.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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