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Pakistanis Imprisoned Abroad/

Pakistan is counted among the countries that rely heavily on foreign remittances for economic stability and foreign reserves. However, despite its dependence on foreign remittances from migrant workers, Pakistan has done little to protect its vulnerable citizens from landing in foreign jails. As a result, Pakistan has seen a significant increase in the number of prisoners and executions abroad. Inadequate oversight and the lack of proper enforcement of existing protections is a literal death sentence for scores of Pakistanis who simply seek a better life and improved prospects for loved ones by working abroad.

 

See map below for country-wise breakdown of Pakistani prisoners. Zoom in for a better view on mobile screens.

 

18,000 ~/

Total number of Pakistanis imprisoned abroad, as of December 2023

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

183/

Pakistanis executed overseas between 2010-2023.

171 (93%) of these were in Saudi Arabia

Source: News Reports

58%/

of Pakistanis imprisoned abroad are in UAE

and Saudi Arabia

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 

The Government of Pakistan has an obligation, under the Constitution and International law, to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens detained abroad. According to official estimates, there are over 14,000 Pakistani citizens languishing in jails across the world, with the highest number in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Greece, India and Iraq.

 

Encouraged by the state, millions of Pakistanis emigrate to foreign lands to seek better opportunities, particularly in the Gulf countries. Pakistan is counted amongst the countries that rely heavily on foreign remittances for economic stability and foreign reserves. However, despite its dependence on foreign remittances from migrant workers, Pakistan must do more to protect these vulnerable citizens from landing in foreign jails. 

 

Pakistanis imprisoned abroad are at the mercy of local courts without access to lawyers, impartial translators, or adequate consular assistance from the Pakistani diplomatic missions. These destitute Pakistanis face the harshest punishments due to their lack of understanding of and assistance with the legal process, incapability to communicate directly with the court, and inability to produce evidence from Pakistan in their defence.

 

Foreign nationals in conflict with the law face a heightened risk of harsh punishment and due process violations. As such, it is incumbent upon the Government of Pakistan to provide effective consular assistance and representation to all overseas Pakistani prisoners, and ensure that their fundamental rights are not violated. Furthermore, the Government of Pakistan should actively pursue the implementation of bilateral prisoner transfer agreements, with the aim of repatriating Pakistani nationals and allowing them to serve out their sentences in their home country.

Browse By Country/

This section provides data on top 16 countries with the highest number of Pakistani prisoners, as of December 2023 (order: highest to lowest). Data on status of executions for each country is sourced from the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Click on the buttons to navigate between countries.

United Arab Emirates/

PAKISTANI PRISONERS/

5,292/

This is the highest number of Pakistanis imprisoned in any country. Most of the Pakistani prisoners in the UAE are imprisoned for drug offences.

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

Last Pakistani sentenced to death was in 2022 over murder charges. The country currently has 10 death row prisoners but there is no information on whether it includes any Pakistanis.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

SIGNED/

In 2020, Pakistan repatriated 1,200 prisoners from the UAE as part of the country’s “humanitarian efforts” during coronavirus pandemic.

Source: Arab News
There are 1.29 million Pakistanis living in the UAE. The heavy flow of labour migration is an extremely important asset to both countries. Pakistani migrant workers in the UAE sent back $1.47 billion in remittances in FY2023.
 
However, many Pakistanis in conflict with the UAE legal system are not afforded full access to their legal rights. These migrants find themselves in a foreign system without adequate access to impartial translators and legal counsel. They are at risk of facing the death penalty for a wide range of crimes.

In 2014, the UAE denied a Pakistani national access to an impartial translator, and unlawfully enhanced his sentence retroactively. He remains incarcerated in Dubai, serving a lengthy and illegitimate sentence.

Timeline

2012:

Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates finalise a Prisoner Transfer Agreement, allowing convicted Pakistani prisoners in the UAE to be repatriated on certain conditions.

2020:

In light of the Government of Pakistan’s humanitarian response to protect its citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic, 1200 Pakistani prisoners were repatriated from the UAE.

2023:

325 Pakistani prisoners are released by UAE authorities in celebration of the holy month of Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia/

PAKISTANI PRISONERS/

7178/

This is the second highest number of Pakistanis imprisoned in any country.

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

171 Pakistanis have been executed in Saudi Arabia between 2010-2023. Saudi Arabia executes more Pakistanis than any other nationality.

Sources: Reprieve;
Justice Project Pakistan

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

SIGNED/

At least 90 Pakistani prisoners were repatriated from Saudi Arabia in 2021. But the Prisoner Transfer Agreement largely remains unused.

Sources: Arab News;

In September 2023, 2.64 million Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia sent back 538 million USD in remittances. Pakistanis in conflict with the law in KSA face a harsh legal system, without access to impartial lawyers and translators. Their families are often not notified of impending executions. Many of those facing harsh sentences for drug crimes are victims of trafficking themselves, coerced and threatened into smuggling narcotics.

Timeline

2016:

Pakistanis in KSA form the highest population of foreign prisoners in the world. Between 2016-2019, over 100 Pakistanis are executed in KSA.

2019:

In February, the Crown Prince of KSA promises to repatriate over 2,100 Pakistanis. In April, Saudi Arabia executes a Pakistani woman on drug-related charges. JPP terms it “unprecedented execution of first Pakistani woman in five years”.

2021:

The Saudi Human Rights Commission announces they will no longer execute for drug crimes. 63 Pakistanis are repatriated in July, followed by 28 in August.

2022:

Pakistan and KSA finalise a Prisoner Transfer Agreement.

In November 2022, 3 Pakistanis are executed in Saudi Arabia, marking the first executions of Pakistanis in the Kingdom since 2019.

2023:

Executions of Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia continue, with 4 in 2023. In total, 7 Pakistanis have been executed since last year.

Greece/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

NO/

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

NOT SIGNED/

As of 2023, there are around 60,000 Pakistanis settled in Greece.

 

All Pakistani nationals in Greek jails are imprisoned under “illegal entry” or immigration-related charges, according to data presented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Senate Standing Committee in September 2022.

History of Migration

1970s:

Greece and Pakistan signed bilateral agreements, allowing Pakistanis temporary employment in shipyards and textile industries.

1981:

7 out of 10 Pakistanis in Greece lacked proper documents.

1990s:

A growing number of Pakistanis entered Greece through various means, e.g. through the Aegean Sea in flimsy boats or walking across the border with Turkey.

Current Situation:

A record number of nearly 5,000 Pakistanis were detected on the “central Mediterranean route” into Europe in the first five months of 2023.

India/

PAKISTANI PRISONERS/

692/

This number includes Pakistani civilians and fishermen.

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

There are no reported executions of any Pakistanis in India.

AGREEMENT ON CONSULAR ACCESS/

SIGNED/

Pakistan and India have an agreement on consular access. In January 2023, 17 prisoners returned from Indian prisons on completion of their sentence.

India and Pakistan share a long history surrounding the transfer of prisoners, going back to the Indian Exchange of Prisoners Act 1948. The two countries share tense political and diplomatic relations, with nationals of the other country arrested on security related charges such as espionage and terror. There is limited migration traffic, due to the large number of immigration hurdles and lack of visas issued. As such, many Pakistanis in Indian jails are being detained on illegal immigration charges, and are routinely deported once Indian authorities confirm their nationalities. 

 

Under the terms of the Consular Access Agreement of 2008, India and Pakistan engage in the biannual exchange of lists containing the names of the nationals of the other country held in their custody. This exchange occurs on January 1st and July 1st each year. Furthermore, both nations commit to releasing and repatriating prisoners within one month of confirming their national status and completion of their sentences. The agreement also mandates the immediate notification to the respective high commission in the event of any arrest, detention, or imprisonment, ensuring swift communication in such circumstances. The agreement provides for early release and repatriation of prisoners in special cases that call for compassionate or humanitarian considerations.

 

In July 2023, this list contained 417 Pakistani prisoners languishing in Indian jails, 95 of whom are fishermen arrested for unwittingly straying too far into Indian waters.

Iraq/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

There are no reported executions of Pakistanis in Iraq.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

NOT SIGNED/

668 Pakistani prisoners were repatriated from Iraq in January 2020.

Migration from Pakistan to Iraq remains consistently high, with many Pakistanis travelling to seek employment. Additionally, Pakistanis flock to Iraq on a yearly basis to visit holy sites in the Gulf state. The majority of these Pakistanis who find themselves in conflict with the Iraqi legal system are involved with issues related to immigration and visa overstay. These migrants find themselves in a foreign system without adequate access to impartial translators and legal counsel.

The Death Penalty in Iraq

 

The majority of persons sentenced to death and executed in Iraq are convicted under anti-terrorism laws. This has especially been the case in light of the formation of terrorist group Daesh. As of 2021 (the year when data was last made available) there were 8,000 people on death row in Iraq. Offences carrying the death penalty in Iraq include crimes against the internal or external security and state institutions, acts of terrorism, kidnapping, rape, drug trafficking leading to death, prostitution, ‘aggravated’ murder and human trafficking leading to death.

 

Recent Developments

 

In 2023, on a state visit to Baghdad, representatives of the Government of Pakistan inked a MOU on Bilateral Political Consultations with the Republc of Iraq. This agreement was signed so the two countries could hold regular dialogue on bilateral, regional and international issues.

 

While Pakistan and Iraq do not have a Prisoner Transfer Agreement, these consultations are an important step and platform for this issue to be raised and taken forward.

 

Italy/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

NO/

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

NOT SIGNED/

A large number of Pakistani migrants live and work in Italy, with Italian government figures in 2020 putting the population at around 131,000. Pakistanis are largely detained for drug trafficking, murder, rape and financial crimes. Additionally, Italy has arrested Pakistani nationals on several occasions in recent years on terrorism charges.

 

There is limited documentation of the repatriation of offenders from Italy to Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s first prisoner who tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020 was arrested in Italy and deported in time for him to have inadvertently spread the virus to other inmates in Pakistan. There is a need to formalise a framework for the transfer of offenders.

Oman/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

There are no reported executions of Pakistanis in Oman.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

NOT SIGNED/

Oman pardoned and released 38 Pakistani prisoners in August 2021.

Source: APP

The Death Penalty in Oman

 

While the last execution took place in Oman in 2021, the country maintains the death penalty for a wide range of crimes that do not meet the ‘most serious crimes standard’ under international law. These include:

  • Murder
  • Drug trafficking
  • Arson
  • Piracy
  • Terrorism,
  • Kidnapping
  • Recidivism of aggravated offenses
  • Leading an armed group that engages in spreading disorder
  • Espionage
  • Treason
  • Perjury causing wrongful execution

 

Statistics from 2018 show a sizeable presence of nearly 275,000 Pakistanis in Oman.

Turkey/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

NO/

The Death Penalty was abolished in Turkey in 2004. No death sentence has been executed in Turkey since October 1984.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

SIGNED/

Ratified by Pakistan in 2014, awaiting ratification from Turkey.

Pakistanis in Turkey

 

According to Turkey’s Directorate of Migration Management’s weekly ‘illegal’ immigration report, 1,789 undocumented immigrants were apprehended, and 1,987 undocumented immigrants were deported from Turkey in 2023. In the first month of 2023, 16,729 undocumented immigrants were repatriated, of which 1,155 were from Pakistan.

 

United Kingdom/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

NO/

The death penalty was abolished in the UK in 1998.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

SIGNED/

Four prisoners were transferred to Pakistan between 2008-2015.

Source: Geo News

According to the 2021 Census, Pakistanis in England and Wales numbered 1,587,819 or 2.7% of the population. In Northern Ireland, the equivalent figure was 1,596, representing less than 0.1% of the population. British Pakistanis form one of the largest Overseas Pakistani communities, with a numerical presence comparable to the Pakistani diaspora in the United Arab Emirates.

 

In 2022, a statement from former Conservative Home Secretary Priti Patel revealed that Pakistani nationals make up the seventh largest number of foreign prisoners in England and Wales, amounting to nearly 3pc of the total foreign prisoners’ population.

 

PTA: 

On 24th August 2007, Pakistan and UK entered into a Prisoner Transfer Agreement Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the Transfer of Prisoners

Recent Developments: 

In August 2022, Pakistan and the UK finalised an agreement that would enable London to repatriate Pakistani nationals involved in petty crimes and violations of immigration laws. This accord was signed pursuant to Prime Minister Sunak’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’, designed to establish stringent asylum and migration systems. The agreement allows the UK to send back Pakistanis seeking asylum as well as those involved in petty crimes and visa violations.

China/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

One Pakistani prisoner was on death row in China, as of July 2023, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

SIGNED/

The treaty on the transfer of sentenced persons was ratified by China in 2020. At least 18 Pakistani prisoners were released from Chinese prisons between 2019-2022.

Pakistani population in China:

Pakistanis in China largely consist of temporary residents, including international students and traders, majority of whom are concentrated in the Xinjiang region in the Northwest of China. In 2017, there were 19,000 Pakistani students studying at Chinese universities, making Pakistan the fourth largest source of international students in the country.

 

Death Penalty in China:

China is estimated to be the world’s leading executioner, executing thousands each year, but statistics on the death penalty are classified as a state secret. However, figures provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2023 mention  one Pakistani prisoner on death row in China.

 

Recent Developments: 

848 people suspected of being in the country illegally were arrested in the first nine months of 2023, including 112 Pakistanis, according to police sources.

Qatar/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

NOT SIGNED/

In 2020, 106 Pakistani prisoners were brought back from Qatar.

Source: The Express Tribune

Pakistani Migrants in Qatar

 

Qatar is one of the most preferred destinations for Pakistani migrants in search of employment. At least 35,637 Pakistanis immigrated to Qatar in the first 7 months of 2023. Around 150,000 Pakistanis are working in Qatar, according to the director-general of the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Pakistanis (2020).

The Death Penalty in Qatar

 

The Qatari Penal Code does not limit capital punishment to the “most serious crimes”. Qatar allows for the death penalty to be imposed for loosely defined crimes against the State like espionage and threats against national security, as well as “honor” crimes. Apostasy, same-sex intercourse, and blasphemy are considered capital offenses, but there have been no recorded applications for the death penalty for these charges.

Bahrain/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

There were at least 26 prisoners on death row in Bahrain, as of 2022. There is no information on whether it includes any Pakistanis.

Source: Guardian

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

NOT SIGNED/

Bahrain releases prisoners by virtue of royal pardons. At least 82 Pakistani prisoners were released in 2016.

Source: Dawn

Pakistanis in Bahrain

 

The Overseas Pakistanis Foundation estimates that the population of Pakistanis in Bahrain stands at 110,000 as of 31st December 2014.

The Death Penalty in Bahrain

 

In January 2017, Bahrain resumed the use of the death penalty after a seven-year de facto moratorium. Since 2018, Bahraini courts have imposed the death sentence on at least five individuals for non-violent drug offenses.

Malaysia/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

As of September 2023, 906 people were reported to be on death row in Malaysia, more than 45% of which comprise of foreign nationals.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

NOT SIGNED/

In 2020, 1500 Pakistanis were repatriated from Malaysia.

There were 85,013 Pakistanis living in Malaysia, as of 2020, according to Ministry of Human Resource, Malaysia.

 

Timeline

2019:

Over 8,000 undocumented Pakistani immigrants were brought back to Pakistan under the Back4Good (B4G) Amnesty Scheme initiated by the Government of Malaysia. This scheme facilitates voluntary repatriation of those in immigration detention centres.

The Government of Pakistan, which took urgent special measures to effect this repatriation, highlights its commitment to overseas Pakistanis.

2020:

Treaty between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and The Government of Malaysia on Extradition is formally adopted on 4th February 2020.

2023:

The Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Bill 2023 removes the mandatory death penalty for all offences, allowing those previously sentenced to death or natural life imprisonment to be resentenced. Under this Act, Pakistanis facing execution in Malaysia are eligible to have their death sentences commuted by the Malaysian judiciary.

Iran/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

In 2023, Iran has executed 610 people. One Pakistani was reportedly executed in July 2022.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

SIGNED/

Iran released 14 Pakistani prisoners on humanitarian grounds in July 2020.

Source: Dawn

The Death Penalty in Iran

 

Iran is one of the world’s most prolific executioners, with use of capital punishment surging at an alarming rate in recent years. In 2023, Iran has executed 610 people. Since 2010, there have been 7,595 executions, according to Iran Human Rights.

Recent Developments

2014:

Pakistan and Iran sign the Transfer of Sentenced Persons agreement, allowing for nationals of each country sentenced in the other to be repatriated.

2015:

Pakistani national Yones Jamaloldini is hanged in May at Zahedan Central Prison, where it is reported at least nine other Pakistanis are on death row. In November, another Pakistani is executed in Minab Prison.

2017:

Four Pakistani nationals are hanged in Zahedan Central and Iranshahr Prisons.

2019:

Former PM Imran Khan visits Iran PM Hassan Rouhani and requests amnesty for Pakistani nationals incarcerated in Iran’s jails.

2020:

In May, the Lahore High Court directs the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to submit a report on consular assistance provided to Pakistanis in Iran. The order is given in response to a public interest petition filed by Justice Project Pakistan on the lack of implementation of the prisoner transfer agreement.

14 Pakistanis are successfully repatriated from Iran in July.

2023:

In August 2023, Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto visits Iran, and announces that both Pakistan and Iran will release all sentenced prisoners of the other nationality, as per the agreement signed between the two countries.

Sri Lanka/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

NO/

The death penalty remains in law for offences like drug trafficking and murder, but the country observes a defacto moratorium on executions. At least 8 death sentences were recorded in 2022.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

SIGNED/

In November 2020, 43 Pakistani prisoners jailed in Sri Lanka on various charges,
including drug trafficking, were repatriated.

Source: Arab News

The Death Penalty in Sri Lanka

 

Sri Lanka acknowledges itself as a de facto abolitionist state. It has observed a de facto moratorium on executions since 1976. The death penalty remains in law for offences like drug trafficking and murder. The moratorium is in effect by virtue of the President’s periodic initiatives to commute all death sentences.

 

By the end of 2022, more than 1,000 people were known to be under the sentence of death, according to Amnesty International.

Timeline

3rd August 2002:

 Transfer of Offenders Ordinance, 2002 is promulgated allowing repatriation of prisoners whose sentences exceed six months of imprisonment.

12th January 2004:

Pakistan and Sri Lanka sign bilateral prisoner transfer agreement.

12th August 2012:

20 Pakistani prisoners including two women repatriated to Pakistan to serve their remaining sentences.

September 2013:

72 Pakistani prisoners repatriated from Sri Lanka and Thailand.

16th March 2015:

Pakistan suspends prisoner transfer treaties with other countries.

17th November 2017:

Supreme Court of Pakistan rules that Pakistan’s domestic law apply to convicts transferred to Pakistan.

6th June 2018:

Supreme Court of Pakistan directs the government to speed up the process of repatriation of Pakistani prisoners from Sri Lanka and other countries.

11th July 2018:

Sri Lankan President announces lifting 42-year moratorium on the death penalty for drug offences.

20th February 2019:

Supreme Court of Pakistan directs the government to restore prisoners transfer agreements.

20th November 2019:

The National Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development decides to discuss prisoner transfer agreements in detail.

4th November 2020:

Justice Project Pakistan’s tireless advocacy efforts secured the repatriation of 41 Pakistanis imprisoned in Sri Lanka. The prisoners were brought home under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement to serve the remainder of their sentences in Pakistan jails.

 

Kuwait/

DOES THE COUNTRY EXECUTE?/

YES/

A Pakistani national was among the 7 people executed in Kuwait on 16th November 2022.

PRISONER TRANSFER AGREEMENT/

SIGNED/

113 Pakistani prisoners were repatriated from Kuwait in January 2020.

Execution of a Pakistani national

 

A Pakistani national was among the 7 people executed in Kuwait on 16th November 2022. These were Kuwait’s first executions since 2017. The executions in Kuwait are part of an upward trend in executions by the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council in recent years.

According to official figures published by the Kuwaiti government, the population of Pakistanis in Kuwait as of 2016 was revealed to stand at 109,853.

Stories of Overseas Pakistani Prisoners/

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Webpage Design:
Ema Anis in collaboration with Sikandar Vincent Khan (Communications team, JPP)
Data Compilation & Visualization:
Zille Huma (Data & Research team, JPP)
Policy Analysis:
Ayesha Gardezi and Haris Zaki (Advocacy and Policy team, JPP)
Data Sources:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Iran Human Rights, Amnesty International, Reprieve, Guardian, The Express Tribune, Dawn, Arab News, The National News UAE, Geo News