ISLAMABAD: Riyadh will “soon” release a large number of Pakistanis languishing in prisons across Saudi Arabia, the country’s top envoy to Pakistan has said, fulfilling a commitment made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a high-profile visit to Islamabad earlier this year.
Pakistan announced in February that Crown Prince Salman had ordered the release of about 2,100 Pakistani prisoners from the Kingdom’s jails during a high-profile visit to Pakistan. “Soon you will see the return of the [Pakistani] prisoners,” Saudi ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki told Arab News on Friday, adding that while some prisoners “are going to be released immediately, some are under process.”
In April, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said 3,400 Pakistanis were currently imprisoned in Saudi jails according to an official count received from Saudi authorities. He said Pakistan’s diplomatic mission in the Kingdom was working with Saudi officials for the release of 2,107 prisoners as ordered by the crown prince.
The fate of thousands of Pakistani workers locked up in jails across the Middle East is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where there is a perception that the prisoners are mostly poor laborers who have no real legal recourse.
Huge numbers of Pakistanis travel to Saudi Arabia and to various countries across the Middle East every year, with several working on construction sites or as domestic helpers. The remittances they send back are vital for Pakistan’s dollar-starved economy.