ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Monday observed that instead of functioning as centres of reformation and social rehabilitation for prisoners, jails have become “epicentres of crimes, corruption and corrupt practices” in Pakistan.
He made these remarks while hearing a case related to maltreatment of prisoners.
A prisoner, Dr Irfan Iqbal, who has been behind bars for the past 19 years, submitted an application in the Human Rights Cell of the IHC in this regard, and his application was converted into a writ petition.
Iqbal levelled serious allegations against the inspector general of the prison and under-custody suspects claiming that these suspects were operating their land grabbing business from prison. He said they paid over Rs10 million to prison authorities, adding that influential people enjoyed all facilities in jail whereas for others, the place was no less than hell.
Justice Minallah noted that the assertions indicate the phenomenon of enabling the powerful and privileged to exploit the system with the support of prison authorities. While the latter exploit the system with impunity, the marginalised and vulnerable inmates become victims of grave violations of human rights, he said, adding that such a phenomenon was intolerable in a society governed under the Constitution.
Director General, Ministry of Human Rights, Mohammad Arshad informed the court that after receiving notice along with a copy of the petition, Dr Irfan Iqbal was contacted and the Punjab government was asked to arrange his medical examination.
Assertions made in the petition are being probed and a report will be prepared before the next date of hearing (Jan 12).
“It appears that the phenomenon of elite capture prevails in the prisons across the country despite the fact that an implementation commission, headed by the worthy minister for human rights, was expected to ensure treatment of the prisoners in conformity with the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution and the commitments of the State of Pakistan with the international treaties and conventions,” the court order said.
It was highlighted that the State owes a duty of care to every prisoner regardless of his or her nature of imprisonment. Most prisoners across the country are, admittedly, under-trial accused, presumed to be innocent.
“The incarcerated person loses freedom of movement but does not cease to be a human. Inhumane treatment of a prisoner is a serious violation of the constitutional rights guaranteed under Articles 9 and 14 of the Constitution and the commitments of the State of Pakistan,” Justice Minallah pointed out.
The court directed the chairperson of the implementation committee and secretary, Ministry of Human Rights, to ensure forthwith that the petitioner is not harassed nor does he become a victim of reprisal for bringing to the attention of this constitutional court, the shocking and abysmal violations of human rights within the prisons of Pakistan.