Apex court orders re-arrest of prisoners released by High Courts, issues guidelines for those who can be freed
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday overturned rulings by the Islamabad and Sindh High Courts that had released under-trial prisoners to curb the spread of coronavirus in prisons, claiming they did not have the authority to take suo motu notices on the matter.
A five-member bench led by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed said that legal procedures could not be dismissed during the ongoing pandemic, which has already infected over 4,000 people in Pakistan and left more than 50 dead. However, it provided guidelines for prisoners who could be freed, restricting the people who could benefit from this relief.
Overturning the verdicts given by the Islamabad and Sindh High Courts, the top court ordered all those who had been released to be re-arrested. The Sindh High Court had released 519 under-trial prisoners, while the Islamabad High Court had ordered the release of more than 600 prisoners. In ordering the re-arrests, the Supreme Court also cancelled bails granted to those incarcerated for serious crimes.
In it’s ruling the court approved a series of recommendations provided by the attorney general to give relief to vulnerable prisoners posing minimal threat to society. Under the guidelines provided, prisoners can be freed if they have been charged under non-prohibitory clauses or under vagrancy law or offenses that carry imprisonment of less than three years, subject to a series of terms:
- Beneficiaries cannot be accused of abuse/violent acts against children and women
- Priority for release will be extended to persons suffering from ailments or physical or mental disability
- Under-trial men who are 55 or older will be freed first, if they do not have a history of past convictions, followed by other categories of male prisoners
- All women and juvenile under-trial prisoners can be freed
Earlier, the chief justice had claimed that the top court could not release under-trial prisoners en masse, and directed the government to enact preventative measures in prisons to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Justice Qazi Ameen said the court should be concerned about the lives of people. “If the infected persons are not in jail, others [prisoners] will be safe,” he said.
The court also ordered the government to establish better facilities at Pakistan’s borders to screen visitors and to keep them in isolation. “Proper quarantine centers and isolation wards should be set up at Taftan, Torkham and Chaman borders. A quarantine center should be set-up within two weeks. Each person should have a separate room, bathroom and good food,” the Chief Justice added.