Prisons, Prisoners And Courts

Prisons, Prisoners And Courts
For the past few days, the tweet of Ms. Imaan Mazari has been making rounds where she has posted a picture of the SHO who she alleged was beating a person in custody and stepping on his face.

This brought back a memory from my childhood. On a warm summer night back when we were kids, my brother and I were on the balcony of our second-floor apartment in the Saddar area of Multan. Next to our home, was the Saddar Thana (Police Station). As we were discussing our agenda for the upcoming day, we started hearing screams emanating from the police station. Flummoxed, we went to wake our father up to ask him what on earth was going on. He told us that perhaps a prisoner was getting beaten up in there.

The next morning, we woke up early to set out on an adventure to the police station and see for ourselves the setup they had. My father’s convenience store is on the other side of the police station and we were on good terms with the people there. As we wandered in without any security checks or barriers or without having to put our names in the register, we inquired about the voices from last night and were sent into a seemingly harmless room that housed a couple of large desks and a barely functioning fan.

One of the policemen pointed us in the direction of the “chittar” that was used to beat up the prisoners. It was a massive paddle-shaped instrument made up of wood and leather. My brother and I tried picking it up and upon failing, we returned home. The only question on our minds was: How can a man be powerful enough to lift it and beat up somebody with it? After that, those screams became a regular occurrence.

According to a report published in August 2022 by Justice Project Pakistan, JPP, Pakistan housed 88,687 prisoners by the end of 2021 against the total prisoner capacity of 65,168 across its 116 jails spread over Pakistan. It is important here to mention that about 71% of the prisoners have not been convicted but are under trial.

While many of us might have visited jails or seen pictures of them on social media, little is left to the imagination when we try to picture the state of our prisons and the condition of our prisoners. These are not major offenders but many of the crimes committed may be deemed petty. For instance, during the last year, among the 41,837 arrests made in Punjab, 13,733 were for kite flying, 11,987 for begging while many others were for water theft, playing loud music, or smoking. How most of these poor Pakistanis are arrested and kept in prisons in the most inhumane conditions requires us to reflect hard upon our justice system.

Many a time, the solution may seem quite simple; establishing more prisons. However, the problem isn’t the jails but the high percentage of undertrial Pakistanis in the jails. As Ms. Zille Huma from JPP pointed out to me, there have been many cases where the judge gave out a sentence of 1 year to the prisoner only to find out that the said prisoner had been rotting in jail for 2 years. The biggest bottleneck is the lack of availability of courts and the severe backlog of cases upon cases that are pending in the courts.

One can’t help but wonder how we can open up the locks on the courts at 11 in the night for the resolution of petty political conflicts but no one has the time to pay heed to the dire condition of Pakistanis under trial.

Talking about women prisoners, we have only 1 women’s prison in Pakistan in the city of Multan. About 76% of the women prisoners remain under trial while many of them also face the challenges of having to raise their young children in jails. Imagine the future of children born and raised in prisons with no adequate care or attention given to what they will become once they’re deemed too old to stay with their mothers? These are the sort of stories fit for a Batman movie, not real life.

In Balochistan, since the prisons are so few, many prisoners end up in jails far away from their homes. Along with this, a lack of calling service available to these prisoners means they can not connect with their families and loved ones. In general, there are very inadequate or non-existent mental health facilities available to prisoners in Pakistani jails. It is quite difficult to not empathise with these Pakistanis rotting in jail cells when most of them haven’t even been convinced or given a fair trial yet.

Looking back to that summer night and the nights that followed, I wonder how many of the screams were coming out of the mouths of convicted prisoners. What were their crimes? How many survived? Did they ever breathe in the free air again? How many of our current prisoners are tortured? How many of the under trial will be convicted and how many will be set free? When will they be set free, if ever? What will their mental state be?

The numbers and statistics in this article are taken from the extensive research work carried out by Justice Project Pakistan.




Adnan Moiz tweets at @Nnormanbates