‘Bring back our sons from Saudi jails’; JPP joins families of migrant workers to protest brutal treatment in Saudi Arabia
Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) joined the families of Pakistani migrant workers to protest outside the Lahore Press Club about the poor treatment of their loved ones at the hands of the Government of Saudi Arabia. 23 Pakistani citizens were beheaded in 2015 – it’s unlikely that their trials met the stringent requirements of international law for a fair trial and due process.
Large numbers of Pakistanis choose to work in the Middle East, seeing it as a route to earn money and provide a better life for their families at home. The majority rely on ‘agents’ to help them find work, accommodation and provide support with visas and travel; a service that can cost thousands of dollars and is open to abuse at the expense of the unsuspecting workers. If Pakistani migrant workers are imprisoned in the Middle East, they are at the mercy of local courts often without access to lawyers, impartial translators or consular assistance.
Talking to the media at the protest, a relative of one of the detainees, Haji Abdul Haq, said: “We are very poor and belong to the labour class. We are not educated. Our son was the only bread winner for our family. He went to Saudi Arabia to earn money so that he can support us but he got trapped by the agents and was arrested at the airport for smuggling drugs.”
In December 2014, Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) filed a petition in the Lahore High Court on behalf of the families of Pakistani migrant workers facing execution in the Middle East, as well as the families of Pakistanis recently beheaded in Saudi Arabia.
The Migrant Workers Petition highlights the plight of vulnerable Pakistanis, and the duty of the government to protect and enforce their human rights in GCC countries which are notorious for human rights violations. It also seeks to compel the Pakistani government to provide support to those Pakistanis currently in jail in GCC countries and facing imminent execution.
On 29 January 2016 The News International reported that Justice Mansoor Ali Shah asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide record of implementation so far, and for JPP to give a list of the shortcomings of the existing guidelines for protection of Pakistanis abroad. He also asked JPP to provide consular policies of other states for comparison in the next hearing. The judge further said that visiting jails and provide legal aid abroad is a basic duty of the Foreign Ministry, and the government should inform the court what relief it can provide to its citizens held overseas.
JPP’s Migrant Workers Project blatantly demonstrates the role of the Government of Pakistan in failing to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens imprisoned in the Middle East. According to official figures, there are currently 8,597 Pakistanis imprisoned on foreign soil. Of these around 4,357 (49%) are incarcerated in the Middle East alone.
“He was a modest pious man who does not have any criminal record in Pakistan. We knocked at every door we could to get justice but no one helped us. Not even we were informed by the government regarding our son. We plead to the Pakistani government to help us and provide legal assistance to our children [in Saudi jails] and take action against the agent mafia,” Mr Haq concluded.