‘Was Imprisoned In Barracks With Death Row Prisoners, Convicted Of Murder, Rape, Terrorism’
A note of gratitude and reflection on our time in prison
It has been an emotionally overwhelming week on both a personal and political level. We were without any contact with the outside world inside but can now tell so many of you have put your sweat, tears and creativity into securing our freedom. It is hard to express my gratitude for the unconditional support and solidarity of our comrades, families, friends & allies, from my incredible partner-in-life Jaqueline, to the brilliant legal team that argued our case, to my relentless AWP comrades, the leftist, progressive and nationalist workers and leaders (from HKM, PSC, to MKP, RSF, PkMAP, NP, PTM and others) who protested for us, to the artists that sang and performed music and poetry, to the academics, writers and feminists who spoke out, to the journalists that highlighted our case amid a media blackout, to those who took care of Jaq and Isa, to our amazing friends & families outside the country, to the many ordinary people who campaigned for us despite not knowing us or being personally invested. Will respond in detail to each of you individually.
Please know that it was the strength of your inspiring collective effort that led to our release and a citizen-led fightback against the rising use of sedition and terrorism laws to silence dissent.
This was an eye-opening experience in many ways. For a week, we were given a taste of what ordinary working people and ethnic minorities experience as a matter of course in this country. I was placed, along with the other 22 arrested protestors, most of them young Pakhtun students and workers, in the prison’s High Security Barracks (HSB), reserved for death row and life prisoners, including those accused and convicted of murder, rape, dacoity, and terrorism. We were separated and placed in 9’x9’ cells including an open toilet with 7 prisoners each. We later learned Adiala was filled to 6 times its original capacity despite having acres of uncovered space (yes, we’ve even reproduced wasteful urban sprawl in our jails).
We were barred from meeting visitors or making phone calls, kept indoors and held largely cut-off from the outside world, constantly reminded we were living in a ‘jail within a jail’. The drinking, bathing and toilet water tap was the same. Most of the jailers were pointlessly cruel, enjoying performing ritual humiliation, engaging in random violence without cause, mockingly accusing us of being enemies of the state. Some, it must be said, were good, decent people, even sympathetic to our views, but unwitting, overworked and underpaid participants in our silencing.
Yet the most remarkable thing about the experience for me was the interaction with the prisoners in the overcrowded jail, truly the wretched of the earth, representing a microcosm of the class, ethnic and religious injustices and inequalities that litter Pakistan.
This included Inam, a humble Baloch goat-herder from Dera Ghazi Khan who had been picked up by the agencies for his brother’s alleged involvement with a banned outfit, tortured in a safe house for six months to disclose his brothers’ whereabouts, and then, when confirmed he knew nothing, implicated in a fake ‘ammunitions possession’ case and thrown into Adiala, where he has remained for weeks without so much as a lawyer, which he simply cannot afford. It included Shah ji, a gentle, soft-spoken wall-painter from Rawalpindi who had been attacked with guns, while himself unarmed, along with his family by an opposing party over a property dispute, for which he was himself later arrested and then bizarrely implicated in a 7-ATA (terrorism) case. It included Liaqat, a 23 year old Pakhtun, who was born and bred in I-11 katchi abadi (and remembered us from our time there), had spent most of his brutal childhood dragged from one police thana to another, then rendered homeless with his family by the 2015 demolition of the abadi, following which he took up a life of violent crime, for which he was finally jailed, now facing decades in prison without ever having lived a normal life.
It included Satti, a laborer on death row, who had admitted to shooting and killing his young niece’s rapist-murderers and was now serving two life sentences & a death sentence, yet somehow still remained strangely cheerful about his circumstances. He was two cells away from us and we would take turns singing each night, his powerful voice and haunting lyrics giving the prisoners in the block some welcome moments of respite in the dark.
There were many other stories like these, of those residing in the underbelly of our decrepit system, abandoned by state and society, victims of systemic economic exclusion, urban dispossession, imperialist wars, ethnic discrimination, enforced disappearance, and a broken, punitive justice system which has no interest in nor capacity to improve society. It is stories like these that Manzoor brought before us, to remind us of the humanity of those who had suffered the policies of our military and civilian ruling elite.
They say prison radicalizes you and I now understand why. It makes you too uncomfortably familiar with the rottenness of the system you live in, unable to turn your eyes away from its grisly failures and their human consequences. I was reminded of the far worse circumstances of others less fortunate than us, long put away and forgotten for the crimes of speaking out and demanding justice and rights, from our dear comrade Baba Jan of AWP Gilgit-Baltistan, now over 7 years behind bars, to Mehr Sattar of Okara, jailed since 2016 for leading a non-violent peasant movement, and now Manzoor Pashteen and Alamgir Wazir, young Pakhtun men told that their lived experiences of pain and suffering are too harsh to the sensitive ears of the powerful.
We were ostensibly sent behind bars for purposes of intimidation – to warn us and others to back off from supporting those who make inconvenient demands of our state. Yet we return, buoyed by the inspiring, diverse and multi-ethnic solidarity and resistance of our comrades, ever more committed to fighting injustice and exclusion in all its forms and transforming the brutal system that excludes and devastates so many lives. As I told Jaqueline when we finally met, the main thing this experience had taught us was the necessity of prioritizing prison and criminal justice reform.
Thank you once again to all who worked tirelessly for our release. The case has not yet been dropped and we will still have to fight the charges of terrorism, rioting and unlawful assembly, among others, in court.
We hope you will continue to support us, demand the release of our comrades and allies still behind bars, and work with us to create a society which allows dissent and debate, where everyone has access to justice, where the law is applied equally, political freedoms are guaranteed and the powerful are answerable to the people.
The only way we can do this is if more of you become active in this struggle so that we can share and redistribute the burden of collective action so that eventually these ‘seditious’ ideas of liberty, equality, and justice become the ideals and lived reality of the majority in our country.
Once again, my deepest gratitude to you all. We must continue to fight with the same fervor for the unheard and voiceless. Onward.
Originally posted by Ammar Rashid on Facebook.