Coronavirus fear: Pakistan’s court directs release of prisoners


By Muhammad Luqman
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has directed the authorities to release undertrial prisoners facing minor charges from Rawalpindi’s overcrowded Adiala Jail on bail as a precautionary measure against the spread of coronavirus.
Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah gave these orders during the hearing of a report on the state of prisoners in Adiala Jail on Friday.
During the hearing, the court directed the district administration that the inmates facing less than seven-year terms or involved in minor crimes could be released on bail on personal surety bonds. The government could submit surety bonds of those who were not able to present their personal bonds, according to media reports.
The IHC has sought a compliance report from the district administration on Saturday.
Later , Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat told media said the court’s order was in accordance with the policy of the government to ‘minimise’ social contact in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has urged Pakistani authorities to take urgent steps to ensure that prisoners and detainees have access to adequate medical care and protective measures against COVID-19.
According to a statement of the New York- based human rights watchdog, prisons, jails, and detention centers should also consider reducing their populations through appropriate supervised or early release of low-risk detainees.
Pakistan has over 625 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease with at least 4 deaths. The risk of contagion is particularly serious in Pakistani prisons, which are significantly overcrowded. COVID-19, like other infectious diseases, poses a higher risk to populations living in close proximity. A November 2019 government report said that Pakistan had 77,275 inmates in 114 prisons, which have a total capacity of 57,742. The majority are undergoing trial and have not been convicted.
“The Pakistan government has an obligation to uphold access to health care for everyone, including prisoners and detainees, who are among the most vulnerable groups,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The coronavirus poses a global challenge and Pakistani authorities should urgently act to limit the chance of a catastrophic outbreak in prisons.”


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