Author Fatima Bhutto has called on the Pakistani government to release vulnerable prisoners in order to reduce the risk of COVID19 spreading in overcrowded prisons across the country.
“We must think of those incarcerated and alone,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “Most women in Pakistan’s jails are there on Hudood cases, false charges of kidnapping (custody cases essentially) and have neither the legal representation nor finances to secure bail.”
“Often their young children are jailed with them. Pakistan must provide relief to its many thousand prisoners in these uncertain times.”
“The Pakistani government must release people from its overcrowded and unsanitary prisons to fight the current COVID19 (coronavirus pandemic,” read a statement written by The Runaways author's brother.
“Pakistan has a prison population of 80,000, while its actual prison capacity is 57,742, which means that most jails are overcrowded and unsanitary, conditions favoured by the virus.”
“The Pakistani legal system criminalizes poverty, many people in Pakistan’s jails remain there because they either can't afford lawyers or provide bail money, others are in jail due to politically motivated crimes.”
Bhutto pointed out that Pakistan will not be acting alone: Iran has released nearly 85,000 prisoners, and other countries have also set the precedent to prevent the spread of the virus and causing further deaths. Activists in the United States are also lobbying authorities to release prisoners.
“Pakistan should also be able to set a precedent for the rest of South Asia in releasing vulnerable members of its incarcerated population.”
According to human rights organisation Justice Project Pakistan, prisoners are vulnerable to the coronavirus - which can spread with person-to-person contact - due to overcrowding in cramped cells and lack of proper hygiene facilities. Prisons are overcrowded by as much as 33%. A considerable number of prisoners are elderly, already ill or have preexisting conditions with little access to healthcare.