Prisons Are Turning Into Hubs Of Coronavirus Pandemic. No Justification For Inhumane Treatment Of Inmates
In the wake of coronavirus pandemic, there have been repeated calls to release inmates from prisons who are vulnerable to getting infected. Pakistan is no exception where the jails are overcrowded, under-resourced and inhumane treatment of inmates is well-known. While the violations of human rights in our prisons are common, such transgressions have intensified in recent weeks and posing a grave danger to the lives of prisoners.
A source who pleaded to remain anonymous and has a relative in Gujranwala Central Jail informed me recently that 4 inmates and 5 jail policemen have been tested positive for coronavirus there. These results were ‘confirmed’, according to the source, the other day when only 35 prisoners and staff members were tested leaving hundreds and thousands from this so called seemingly ‘privilege’ of getting tested.
A spokesperson of the Punjab health department maintained that they had been shifted to DHQ Gujranwala. What has happened to those inmates who tested positive is a contrasting story of inhumane treatment.
A deeply disturbed and paranoid sibling has a brother in jail and fears what if he gets infected by the virus. While the policemen have been told to self-quarantine at homes and temporarily relieved of their duties, the four inmates have been isolated within the jail. The disturbing fact is that out of the fear of getting infected, no one is approaching these unfortunate ‘corona qaidis’. Let alone providing appropriate medicinal treatment, the basic existential needs such as food are not being adequately provided to them.They are being in an treated inhumane manner.
Recently, the Supreme Court rejected decisions of high courts pertaining to cutting some slack to prisoners. The other day, 29 inmates tested positive for coronavirus in Lahore camp jail. The argument (as noted in the Information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan’s statement the other day) that if no coronavirus affected person is entering jails, how can there be a pandemic, thereby ruling out the possibility of jails becoming new epicentres. They are not far from becoming hubs of COVID-19 disease.
The government should consider releasing prisoners or granting parole on an urgent basis. More than 60% of inmates are lingering in jails awaiting court decisions including the poor inmates who cant afford to pay fines. The government could at least start waiving off fines under the relief package. The fault of a new spiral in cases would lie entirely upon the PM who says Ghabrana nahi hai. Well, then even he might say the same.
I personally know some assistant commissioners with whom I studied in college and one of them is posted in the Punjab. I would not name him but expect that they can pull all strings to prevent inmates from the pandemic and push for serious action by the Home department of the province.
ND Editor and Independent researcher based in Lahore