Since 2014 Saudi Arabia has executed 70 Pakistani citizens, more than any other foreign nationals while hundreds, including an 80 year old woman, are currently on death row.
There are close to 3,400 Pakistanis jailed in Saudi Arabia – making Pakistanis the largest number of expatriates in Saudi prisons, according to figures by Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
However, in February this year, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered, the immediate release of 2,107 Pakistanis incarcerated in Saudi jails, during his visit to Pakistan.
And although the minister for overseas Pakistanis made a public announcement in August that 1,350 Pakistani prisoners had been repatriated, no details about these prisoners nor the timeline of their arrival was shared.
“Despite being a close ally, KSA executes more Pakistanis than any other nationality. Not only has it not returned the promised 2,107 prisoners to Pakistan but it has also started to execute them. The Pakistani government must pursue and expedite the release of these people and ensure their safe return” said Sarah Belal, executive director, of Justice Project Pakistan in a press statement.
Justice Project Pakistan is a non-profit human rights law firm that provides pro bono legal advice and investigative services to the most vulnerable of Pakistani prisoners, at home and abroad.
More than a million Pakistanis live in Saudi Arabia, according to Global Media Insight, which make up the kingdom’s third largest expatriate community.
Saudi Arabia currently has one of the highest execution rates in the world – and the majority executed are foreigners on drug-related charges.
While most countries whose citizens make up a significant portion of the expatriate population have thorough consular protection policies and prison transfer agreements with Saudi Arabia, several reports by Justice Project Pakistan show the lack of efforts by Pakistani authorities to protect its migrant workers in Saudi Arabian jails.
The Philippine government, for example, regularly intervenes on behalf of its overseas workers. According to a 2011 government inquiry on behalf of the Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs, there was “no doubt” that the country’s diplomatic staff actively monitored developments in death-row cases involving Philippine citizens in Gulf countries.
And in 2014, Sri Lanka signed a labour deal with Saudi Arabia seeking to protect the rights of 500,000 of its citizens working there. The move was made after a Sri Lankan maid was beheaded in the kingdom. At the moment, the Sri Lankan embassy has a 24-hour hotline where distressed workers can call for help.
A 2018 report titled ‘Caught in the Web’ by Justice Project Pakistan and Human Rights Watch stressed the importance and effectiveness of consular protection policies and prison transfer agreements in efforts to protect migrant rights.
‘Caught in the Web’ explored 19 different cases that highlighted the many ways that Pakistani authorities in the kingdom have been failing their citizens in prisons.
Saudi Arabia does not provide public defender services or state support to those who cannot afford private lawyers. In the 19 cases researched in “Caught in the Web”, only one defendant had access to a lawyer.
Last year, during a panel discussion at the launch of the report, Pakistani Senator Sehar Kamran called for the establishment of a community welfare fund to provide legal help to detained Pakistanis and reform in the “sheer indifference” displayed by the Pakistani embassy and consulate in Saudi Arabia.
A spokesperson for the Pakistani consulate in Jeddah, in an interview with openDemocracy, has denied any shortcomings in its system and states that all Pakistanis arrested in Saudi Arabia are provided the assistance they need. (Source: openDemocracy)