Islamabad; 07 March 2018: Pakistan must better protect its citizens by adopting a consular protection policy to better protect its citizens detained in jails all over the world, said Parliamentarians including Senator Farhatullah Babar and Parliamentarian Shireen Mazari at the launch of Caught in a Web: Treatment of Pakistani Prisoners in the Saudi Criminal Justice System, a joint report by Justice Project Pakistan and Human Rights Watch.

Caught in a Web launched in Islamabad today documents the plight of Pakistani citizens imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. These vulnerable prisoners suffer rampant due process violations, such as long periods of detention without charge or trial, no access to legal assistance, pressure from the authorities to sign confessions and accept predetermined prison sentences, and ineffective translation services for defendants.

Speaking at the launch today, Sen. Farhatullah Babar in his keynote address indicted the Saudi criminal justice system, highlighting its lack of due process provisions. He also highlighted that detained Pakistanis very rarely, if ever, receive any response from Pakistani government agencies that they turn to for help. “We should have a cell, in one or various relevant ministries, that has the mandate to examine, pursue and investigate the cases of these Pakistani prisoners abroad.” He also recommended adding a database of Pakistanis imprisoned abroad that is regularly updated and contains the particulars of all overseas Pakistani prisoners and progress of their cases or convictions.

Parliamentarian Dr Shireen Mazari while responding to a question posed to her during the panel discussion emphasized the importance of article 4(1) of the Constitution that imposes a duty on the state to protect its citizens at home and abroad. She stated that while we bemoan the shortcomings of the Saudi criminal justice system, we must focus on what we can do on our end to assert the rights of our own citizens. She proposed that, “All political parties, should put in their manifestos and force the Foreign Office to have a universal consular protection policy. We should also negotiate bilateral agreements that allow Pakistani citizens in KSA and Gulf countries to serve their sentences at home.” She informed the attendees that the PTI had included in its manifesto the urgent need to establish a universal counselor protection policy cell at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Sen. Sehar Kamran pointed out the capacity limitations and sheer indifference plaguing the Pakistani Embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia, and called upon increasing the number of community welfare officers. More importantly, she said, that the Community Welfare fund must be utilized to hire effective legal representation for Pakistanis detained in that country.

National Commission on Human Rights Chairman Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhanstated that Pakistan missions abroad must be held accountable for their inaction to provide legal assistance to its citizens detained abroad. He added that “there should be a Treaty between our two countries based on the Vienna Convention and other U.N. resolutions to bring our people back here.”

Saroop Ijaz of Human Rights Watch also pointed out that Pakistan’s credibility is questioned in international forums when we do not comply with our international legal obligations. He added, “In Saudi Arabi, the laws are different for Saudi and foreign nationals which leads them to be more vulnerable.”

Journalist Baqir Sajjad indicated that while the media must help raise awareness of the issue, ultimately the responsibility lies with the Pakistani government to better implement protections for its citizens abroad.

Caught in a Web recommends the government of Saudi Arabia to enact new and amend existing legislation to reinforce protections against fair trial violations, provide lawyers to the indigent, as well as improve Arabic translation services. Recommendations for Pakistan include providing adequate consular services to detainees in Saudi Arabia and helping ensure that they have access to appropriate legal representation.

About 2.6 million Pakistanis, most of them migrant workers, make up the second-largest migrant community in Saudi Arabia. More Pakistanis are executed in the Kingdom than any other foreign nationality annually. 66 Pakistani citizens have been executed since Oct. 2014 alone.