June 24, 2020
The government is doing its best to bring back Pakistani prisoners from Iranian jails, foreign office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui told Arab News on Tuesday in response to an assertion made by a rights group that questioned the safety of these inmates a day earlier after reports of 18 deaths and 335 COVID-19 infections in Iranian jails emerged.
“As per the information provided by Iranian authorities, there are 134 Pakistani prisoners in their jails. The government is taking every step to bring back these Pakistani prisoners,” she said while sharing the official number of inmates that was less than what the rights group mentioned in its statement.
She added that officials in the two countries were in contact with each other over the issue.
“Our embassy in Tehran is in constant touch with the relevant authorities in Iran to ensure the well-being of these inmates,” Farooqui continued, adding that no Pakistani prisoner was infected by the debilitating respiratory disease according to the information provided by the Iranian authorities.
A Lahore-based rights group, Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), expressed serious concerns over the safety of “little known Pakistani prisoners” in Iranian jails on Tuesday while urging the government to immediately repatriate them.
“The Iranian government has announced that it is ready to swap prisoners with other countries including Pakistan. This announcement by Iran’s deputy justice minister for human rights and civil liberties comes at a time when there is little information about the health and safety of 189 Pakistani prisoners languishing in Iranian jails amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” the group said on Monday.
“Although official figures are not available, reports suggest that at least 335 prisoners have been infected while 18 of them have died as a result,” JPP spokesperson Ali Haider Habib told Arab News on Tuesday, adding that the statistics could be far higher than that.
“The virus does not discriminate between any race or religion,” Habib continued while pointing out that Pakistani prisoners in Iran were just as much at risk of contracting the virus as anyone else.
Away from home, he suspected, these inmates could be struggling to cope with their situation, making them more vulnerable to mental and physical health issues.
Since the Iranian government had expressed its willingness to swap prisoners with countries like Pakistan, said the JPP spokesperson, it was a perfect opportunity for the administration in Islamabad to enter into a prisoner exchange program and bring its citizens back.
“Until their return, the Pakistani government must ensure that adequate safety measures have been put in place for the well-being of prisoners in our own jails, make social distancing possible, and provide prisoners with complete medical assistance in case they contract the virus,” Habib said.
The JPP also reminded that Prime Minister Imran Khan had raised the issue of Pakistani prisoners during his visit of Iran, creating some hope for their early return.
“The government of Pakistan has an obligation under international law and the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens detained around the world,” the organization’s statement read, adding that Pakistanis imprisoned outside the frontiers of their country were at the mercy of local courts without access to lawyers, impartial translators, or consular assistance from their own country’s diplomatic mission.
Many of these prisoners face harsh punishments due to a lack of understanding of legal processes and inability to directly communicate with court authorities, it added.
“During the past two months, Pakistan has brought back 1,712 prisoners from different countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE and Malaysia,” the JPP statement said, urging the government also to bring back Pakistani inmates from Iran.