“CAUGHT IN A WEB”: Treatment of Pakistanis in the Saudi Criminal Justice System

Date.07 Mar, 2018


ISLAMABAD, 5 March, 2018: New research by Justice Project Pakistan and Human Rights Watch finds Pakistani citizens imprisoned in Saudi Arabia are vulnerable to rampant due process violations, including long periods of detention without charge or trial, no access to legal assistance, pressure on detainees from the authorities to sign confessions and accept predetermined prison sentences to avoid prolonged arbitrary detention, and ineffective translation services for defendants.

Based on interviews of 22 Pakistanis detained and put on trial in Saudi Arabia, and 7 family members of 9 other defendants, caught in 19 different cases, the report documents the dangerous shortcomings of the Saudi criminal justice system that fails to provide detainees with the right to fair trial, and subjects them to severe human rights abuse, such as poor prison conditions, lack of adequate medical care, ill-treatment and torture.

The joint report by Justice Project Pakistan and Human Rights Watch Caught in a Web: Treatment of Pakistanis in the Saudi Criminal Justice System will be launched on Wednesday, March 7 at Marriott Hotel, Islamabad at 1500.

Senator Farhatullah Babar will be the keynote speaker, following a panel discussion with Parliamentarian Dr Shireen Mazari, National Commission on Human Rights Chairman Justice (R) Ali Nawaz Chowhan, Senator Sehar Kamran and journalist Baqir Sajjad. The discussion will be moderated by JPP Executive Director Sarah Belal.

An acute defect of the Saudi criminal justice system highlighted in the report is the inability to provide detainees with proper means to contact their families or to seek consular services from Pakistani embassies. Ten out of the 22 detainees examined in the report said that Saudi officials held them a week or longer following their arrest without allowing them to contact anyone. Most said that they were only able to contact family members eventually by paying other detainees to use contraband phones smuggled into prisons and detention centres.

Worse still is Saudi Arabia’s policy of not providing public defender services or any state support to those who cannot afford private lawyers, the report notes. In the 19 cases researched, only one defendant had was able to engage a defence lawyer. Without legal assistance, the defendants end up signing confessions or agreeing to verdicts which sometimes directly harm their interests.

The report also highlights language barrier as one of the key hindrances behind detainees’ failure in finding justice. With a lack of understanding of Arabic, the detainees are unable to communicate with the courts or understand the contents of Arabic-language court documents. The court-appointed translators do not usually provide adequate services and sometimes intentionally misrepresent detainees’ statements to judges, as in the case of four of the 22 defendants interviewed.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia also fails to comply with its international legal obligation to promptly inform Pakistani consular officials about the arrests of Pakistani citizens, and neither has the Pakistani government taken any steps to provide consular assistance, the report notes.

Caught in a Web recommends the government of Saudi Arabia improve its legislation and practices to create real protections against arbitrary arrest, due process and fair trial violations. The Pakistani government has also been urged to provide adequate consular services to detainees in Saudi Arabia and help ensure that they have access to appropriate legal representation.

About 1.6 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. 62 Pakistani citizens have been executed since Oct. 2014 alone.


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1. Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) is a human rights organization that provides pro bono legal representation to the most vulnerable Pakistani prisoners facing the harshest punishments. Our clients include those facing the death penalty, the mentally ill, victims of police torture, juvenile offenders and physically disabled prisoners. JPP was established in December 2009 and is based in Lahore, Pakistan.

2. For details contact Rimmel Mohydin (+923214224941) or  Muhammad Shoaib (+92 333 4913629)

3. Help us save lives – join the #BringItBack campaign here