Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) is delighted at the news of a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) signed between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the weekend.
JPP in a statement released said, “We congratulate Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis, the Parliamentary Committee on Overseas Pakistanis, the Ministry of Human Rights and others on the signing of the much-awaited PTA between the two states during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s current visit to the Kingdom.”
The PTA had been in the works for many years. In 2017, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court (LHC), in a petition filed by Justice Project Pakistan on behalf of 10 Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, had sought a mechanism on the repatriation of Pakistani prisoners and a policy for providing consular access. The Ministry of Interior had then told the court that a draft of the PTA had been sent to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has already signed an extradition treaty with India and prisoner transfer agreements with other countries such as the United Kingdom, United States and the Philippines.
The Pak-Saudi migration corridor is one of the costliest in the world. Millions of Pakistanis migrate to Saudi Arabia in search of work.
There are presently around 2,500 Pakistanis imprisoned in the Kingdom. These vulnerable Pakistani men and women are at the mercy of local courts without access to lawyers, impartial translators, and limited consular assistance from the Pakistani diplomatic missions.
They face the harshest punishments due to their lack of understanding of and assistance with the legal process, incapability to communicate directly with the court, and inability to produce evidence from Pakistan in their defence.
During Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s maiden trip to Pakistan in February 2019, the Prime Minister had made an impassioned plea on behalf of Pakistani prisoners. In response, the Crown Prince had promised to pardon and release 2,107 Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. While some prisoners did return as a result, many more have been awaiting their release since then. We are hopeful the PTA will expedite their return.
We are also grateful to the Prime Minister for prioritizing the plight of overseas Pakistanis, particularly the considerable number of migrant workers in the Middle East.
The Pakistani government’s recent efforts to ensure protection for these Pakistanis and addressing their complaints with diplomatic missions is a positive step towards safeguarding their dignity and interests.
However, Justice Project Pakistan believes a consular protection policy is an urgent need of the hour to ensure that all Pakistanis are accorded diplomatic assistance in a foreign country. Such a policy will outline systemic reforms and set minimum guidelines, methods, and modes to help Pakistanis detained abroad. If enacted, it will be a legacy of the government and in line with its commitment to protect Pakistanis, wherever in the world they may be.