The tragic story of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy under Islamic law and imprisoned unjustly in Shiekupura (in Punjab), brings the attention back on the old question of degradation faced by the Pakistani jails. The number of prisoners in Pakistan exceed 78,000. The country's prisons are overcrowded, having 33,000 more prisons than the design capacity. 50,000 are awaiting trial. Torture, violence, drugs and impunity reigns in prison.
In a report released yesterday, October 12, titled "Reform of the prison system in Pakistan", the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank, states that the prison system is "corrupt and dysfunctional." Its reform is central to curb rising crime, militancy, the deterioration of the criminal justice system and to actually apply the rule of law.
The system "fails to prevent or prosecute crimes, protects the powerful, and victimizes the poor and weak", just as Asia Bibi. The prisons, the Report says, "are greatly overcrowded and mishandled, they become a breeding ground for crime and militancy: the prisoners are more likely to return to crime rather than abandon it".
"Thanks to laws and outdated procedures, the criminal justice system is characterized by long detentions without trial", said the ICG. Furthermore, given the limited mechanisms of control "torture and other abuses are rampant" and life in prison is "an outbreak of drug abuse, violence and crime. "The phenomenon of illegal and arbitrary detentions, arranged by the military, increase the discontent of the local population, creating a fertile ground for recruiting militant in prison.
The Report concludes: "The treatment and conditions of prisoners are a key criterion to show the will of the State to uphold the rule of law, to improve access to justice and protect the citizens". The ICG ask the government, therefore, for an urgent reform of the criminal justice system in Pakistan, to give real constitutional guarantees to all citizens and enforce the rule of law.