With the support of human rights law firm, Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), the families of Pakistani migrant workers held a demonstration outside the Lahore Press Club to protest inadequate government protection for their loved ones facing execution in Saudi Arabia.

Around 120 family members gathered in Lahore from different parts of the country, appealing to the government for help. “Where do we go?” added one grieving mother who has not seen her son in years. “Who do we talk to?”

Four Pakistanis have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia this year. In 2015, 23 were put to death. The families of the executed are yet to receive their bodies.

The government of Pakistan has various human rights obligations towards its migrant workers, under both domestic and international laws. Under the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, it is obligated to ensure that the fundamental right to security of person (Article 9), safeguard from arrest and detention (Article 10), due process (Article 10A), dignity of man and protection from torture (Article 14) remain protected regardless of where a Pakistani national is resident (Article 4).

Pakistan continues to fall short of these obligations through its failure to put a universal consular policy in place.

This is compounded by the violations that the Saudi Arabian justice system is rife with. International law, accepted as binding by Saudi Arabia, provides that capital punishment may only be imposed following trials that comply with the most stringent requirements of fair trial and due process.

And yet, Pakistani migrant workers imprisoned in the Middle East are at the mercy of local courts without access to lawyers, impartial translators and consular assistance from Pakistani diplomatic missions. These poor and hardworking Pakistanis, abandoned by their own country, face the harshest punishments due to their lack of understanding of the legal process, inability to communicate directly with the court and no mechanisms of producing evidence from Pakistan in their defence.

In most, if not all, cases, migrant workers facing execution for narcotics offences have been drugged, tortured, kidnapped or held under duress by agents that promote overseas employment until they ingest drug capsules before boarding their flight. They are cleared through immigration in Pakistan, but are arrested at the Saudi airport during immigration; that is usually the last their families hear from them for months.

Currently there are 2393 Pakistanis in jails all over Saudi Arabia, and many of them are at risk of execution by beheading. Their families, left behind in Pakistan, have limited access to their loved ones and little legal recourse to help save them.

Sarah Belal, Executive Director of JPP adds, “Pakistan’s failure to install a universal consular policy continues to put its citizens abroad in grave danger. Given Saudi Arabia’s disregard for judicial independence and due process, it is imperative for Pakistan to come to the aid of these prisoners, examine their cases and take meaningful steps to dismantle the system that puts them at risk of execution. Saudi Arabia is Pakistan’s closest ally, yet continues to execute the most Pakistanis every year. It is our government’s constitutional duty to help any and all citizens languishing in jails abroad.”