Saudi Arabia fails to share prisoners’ list despite high-level commitment


–Senate body told Pakistanis remain imprisoned due to pending fines against them

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Panel on Human Rights on Thursday expressed displeasure at the fact that the despite commitment at the highest level and repeated reminders by the Pakistani government, Saudi Arabia did not share the list of prisoners it had announced to release during the crown prince’s visit to Pakistan upon the special request of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights was told that at present 114 prisoners in Riyadh and 128 in Jeddah are imprisoned due to pending payment of fines because of their financial situation and the fines begin from Rs8,000 and go till Rs2.2 million. Other than this, 3,000 people are imprisoned in Saudi Arabia over criminal offences.

While discussing the matter of incarceration of a Pakistani national, Mureed Abbas, languishing in Saudi prison for the last three years due to non-payment of fines, Additional Secretary Middle East Nadeem Khan told the committee that he went to Saudi Arabia as a driver and had an accident for which he was imprisoned and fined. His sponsor has a claim of 27,000 Saudi Riyals.

He said that the ministry is trying to get information about the sponsor and then Pakistan will work for the fine to be waived off. He also said that the government is trying to give relief to prisoners but cannot pay all the fines. He also observed that the problems being faced by the Pakistani community abroad is due to the high number of people, a disorganised community and lack of funds.

The committee members remarked that Pakistanis going abroad should be trained to behave well when outside the country and a fund should be maintained for paying their fines. The committee observed that the human rights ministry maintains a fund to pay for the prisoners who are from weaker segments of society but it is permissible for only within the country. The committee considered working out a proposal of bringing an amendment in Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) or any other relevant law to bring the overseas prisoners also under its ambit.

The committee was told that there is a similar fund maintained by the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis Foundation and a welfare fund maintained by missions abroad but they are for different purposes and cannot be applied to payment of fines. The committee also decided to hold a briefing of the fund of human rights and to write to provincial governments to feel their responsibility towards contributing in this fund. The ministry was also directed to call an inter-ministerial meeting to get an understanding about the available resources and formulate a mechanism.

Ministry of Interior told the committee that such an inter-ministerial committee is already working in the Foreign Office (FO) and their recommendations may be seen by the committee. Therefore, the committee decided to call the members of the committee in next meeting along with their recommendations.