Government urged to take ‘swift remedial action’ for prisoners’ rights

The National Human Rights Commission says it does not receive any complaints of torture or sexual abuse in prisons.  - AFP/File
The National Human Rights Commission says it does not receive any complaints of torture or sexual abuse in prisons. – AFP/File
  • The NCHR expresses concern over the lack of information on the rights of prisoners.
  • The body said in its report that the prisoners informed about the arrest late in the night.
  • According to the NCHR, no women were arrested in Peshawar.

The National Human Rights Commission (NCHR) on Friday called upon the government to take immediate remedial action related to medical examination of prisoners, identification parade, information on rights and setting up of monitoring and complaint mechanism.

The NCHR has released a detailed report of prison visits conducted by its team across the country to probe allegations of torture and sexual abuse of prisoners in connection with the May 9 protests.

In its report, the impartial state body noted that although the prisoners did not make any statements alleging torture or sexual abuse, the commission noted lapses in maintaining security measures for arrests, gaps in procedures relating to prison standards, particularly Expressed concern over what is prescribed. By fundamental rights granted by law or under the constitution and international guidelines.

The report further states that these shortcomings include delay in the process of identification parade, lack of information about the rights of prisoners and lack of details of the sections under which they have been booked.

It is pertinent to mention here that the purpose of the visit was to verify the authenticity of these allegations, to assess the conditions of imprisonment, whether such prisoners were tortured or not, and to examine the medical records of the prisoners – whether they were suffering from any ailments or not. was investigated. or has been deprived of any of his rights and privileges in accordance with law.

No reports of torture or sexual abuse

The report mentioned that during the probe, the NCHR team did not find any report of harassment or sexual abuse of any male or female prisoner in police or judicial custody.

Inmates reported late-night arrests and the use of disproportionate force with intent to intimidation and instill fear at the time of arrest. Many inmates reported vandalism in their homes, confiscation of laptops, and verbal abuse. The report noted that most political prisoners were not aware of their rights in prison as per the Prison Rules (Rule 64 PPR) and were not informed of the grounds of arrest.

On 9 May, violent protests broke out in the country after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan was arrested by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the 190 million pound Al-Qadir Trust case.

In addition to attacks on civilian government infrastructure and properties, some protesters entered high-security areas, including army and air force installations, where incidents of violence took place.

During and after these protests, provincial authorities launched widespread arrests in various cities. A large number of people were detained and later charged under various statutory provisions. The report noted that following the arrests, several social media statements and allegations emerged regarding torture, including sexual abuse, of PTI women protesters during their arrest and incarceration in various prisons in Pakistan.

Last month, the PTI chief had said the government was trying to “stop scare stories coming out in the media”. The ousted prime minister, who was removed from office last year through a no-confidence vote, made the remarks while responding to the interior minister’s post-midnight press. In his press briefing, the interior minister claimed that intelligence agencies had intercepted a conversation that indicated that an “act of rape” would be carried out and would be blamed on law enforcers. Apart from this, the PTI leadership has been accusing the police and the government of custodial torture.

In view of the growing concerns, the Commission has reached out to government officials to ensure due process of law by issuing an official communication to various government stakeholders on May 10, 2023. As no direct complaint was received by the Commission nor forwarded through any official complaint mechanism. Therefore, a formal inquiry was initiated under Section 9(c) of the NCHR Act 2012 which empowers it to “visit any jail, place of detention or any other institution where convicts, undertrial prisoners, detainees or other Individuals are locked up or in custody.” ,

The visits of the NCHR team included Central Jail Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Quetta and jails of Nowshera, Swat and Sheikhupura.

At the time of the visit, there were 28 female undertrial prisoners and 1,322 male undertrials lodged in jails across Punjab. The NCHR team met and personally interviewed all the women in jails during their visit.

The Committee was informed that 68 civilians were charged under Section 3 of the Maintenance and Public Order Ordinance, 1960 (3 MPO) due to activities on 9 May 2023 in the Central Jail Peshawar, of whom 48 have been released. Of the 20 remaining prisoners in Peshawar, 13 were juveniles. No woman was arrested in Peshawar.

33 male but no female PTI protesters were detained at the Central Jail Quetta.

In Central Jail Karachi, 2 women arrested after May 9 protests were earlier shifted to Sukkur Jail and have now been released.

Most of the protesters imprisoned in Lahore had access to legal aid, although the more than 300 male protesters held in the Central Jail Rawalpindi had no recourse to legal aid or bail. Most teenagers in Peshawar had no legal aid or advice.

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