Five reasons why Pakistanis in Saudi prisons fail to get justice

Families of detained migrant workers protesting outside the Lahore Press Club in 2016. Photo: Justice Project Pakistan

As many as 1.6 million Pakistani migrant workers have been living in Saudi Arabia, making it the country’s second-largest migrant community.

At least 2,937 Pakistanis are currently jailed in Saudi Arabia, according to an interior ministry report which was submitted in the Lahore High Court on September 14, 2018.

More Pakistanis are executed in the Kingdom than any other foreign nationals, reports Caught in a Web: Treatment of Pakistanis in the Saudi Criminal Justice System (2018). The research was conducted by the Justice Project Pakistan and Human Rights Watch.

Related: Crown prince orders the immediate release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners in Saudi Arabia

The human rights groups have identified a number of reasons why Pakistani prisoners continue to languish in Saudi prisons. SAMAA Digital takes a look at them.

1. Lack of opportunity for defence

The prisoners said that they aren’t given an opportunity to defend themselves. They are convicted on the basis of police reports. If they choose to defend the sentence, they are repeatedly summoned for additional hearings. To get out of prison as soon as possible, they end up accepting their original sentences. “The judge had our case files in front of him. He passed our sentences without listening to our stories,” a prisoner said.

Nine defendants said that they were pressured to accept a court ruling and weren’t given a chance to understand the judgments.

2. Legal help is not affordable

Most of the prisoners are not able to get a defense lawyer because they don’t know where to find them or pay for them.

As a result of the lack of legal assistance, only one detainee had possession of court documents or copies of their convictions, the report said. “Some of the detainees and family members said courts would not provide these documents while others said they did not request them.”

3. The Pakistani embassy does not always cooperate

Some prisoners said that they did not get any assistance, except for deportation processing procedures, from the Pakistani embassy. They even said that Pakistani officials rarely visited Saudi prisons.

Some officials said that they were not informed by the Kingdom of Pakistani prisoners being kept in Saudi Arabia.

4. Lost in translation

The court-appointed translators are not able to help the prisoners. The prisoners said that sometimes they would intentionally misrepresent detainees’ statement to judges. Three defendants said that court-appointed translators misrepresented their statements to judges, which they were able to understand having learned limited Arabic living in Saudi Arabia.

They said that translators told judges that defendants were pleading for forgiveness while they were actually disputing the charges or conviction.

5. Slow legal process

Some former detainees said that they had to wait for a long time to be released from prisons too.

Seven of the former detainees said that they remained in prison up to eight months following the expiry of their sentences for various reasons, including apparent negligence by prison officials and slow processing of deportation procedures.

*The report is based on interviews with 12 Pakistanis detained and put on trial in Saudi Arabia, and seven family members of nine other defendants. The interviews were conducted from November 2015 to September 2016.

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