There are reports indicating that Pakistani authorities have taken some steps to mitigate the impact of the virus on the country’s prison population, which includes non-citizen detainees imprisoned under the 1946 Foreigners Act. The government has suspended visits to penitentiaries and court hearings. On 16 March, the Sindh provincial government began screening inmates and prison staff for Covid-19, while the Punjab government announced that it was creating isolation centres for prisoners.
However, critical concerns remain and there is increasing pressure to implement additional measures as the crisis becomes more acute. On 19 March, Human Rights Watch amplified calls to protect prisoners, urging the country’s authorities to take urgent steps to ensure that prisoners and detainees have access to adequate medical care and protective measures against Covid-19. Amnesty International and Justice Project Pakistan also urged authorities to take measures to protect prisoners. The Justice Project Pakistan urged the government to “devise a coherent approach to protecting its prison population, currently at over 77,000 individuals. Should the government fail to act now, Pakistani prisons and detention centres will become epicentres for the transmission of Covid-19.”
On 24 March 2020, the first case of Covid-19 within a prison was confirmed. On the same day, the Islamabad High Court ordered the release of hundreds of prisoners involved in petty crimes on bail, in a bid to reduce the hazards of the Covid-19 outbreak in jails. Since then, several provincial governments have ordered the release of prisoners: on 28 March, the Punjab government’s Home Department announced that it would be releasing 20,000 prisoners out of 46,000 from the 41 jails across the province (and bail applications have been made for prisoners who committed petty crimes and for those over the age of 60); and on 30 March, the Sindh government approved the temporary release for three months of around 4,000 prisoners. (Government officials hinted that drug smugglers and those convicted of terrorism may not be released. Prisoners convicted of “minor” crimes would be eligible for temporary release. It was reported that there were around 16,024 prisoners for 13,538 places in all prisons across the Sindh). The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa also announced that they would release prisoners 60 days early.
- S. Jamal, “10 Steps Pakistan is Taking to Contain Coronavirus,” Gulf News, 15 March 2020, https://gulfnews.com/world/asia/pakistan/10-steps-pakistan-is-taking-to-contain-coronavirus-1.70403640
- Human Rights Watch, “Pakistan: Prisoners at Risk of COVID-19,” 19 March 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/19/pakistan-prisoners-risk-covid-19
- Amnesty International, “Pakistan: Protect Prisoners During Covid-19 Outbreak, Says Amnesty International and Justice Project Pakistan,” 24 March 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/03/pakistan-must-protect-prisoners-during-covid-19-outbreak/
- I. Sajid and A. Latif, “Pakistan Stays Under Lockdown amid Coronavirus Outbreak,” Andalou Agency, 24 March 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/pakistan-stays-under-lockdown-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/1777394#
- The News, “Containing Corona Spread in Jails: Punjab Govt Releasing 20,000 Prisoners,” 28 March 2020, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/635778-containing-corona-spread-in-jails-punjab-govt-releasing-20-000-prisoners
- I. Ali, “Move to Release 4,000 Convicts from Sindh Prisons to Stop Spread of Covid-19,” Dawn, 30 March 2020, https://www.dawn.com/news/1544810
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Pakistan,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/asia-pacific/pakistan