Pakistan courts drag their feet over Pakistanis wrongfully held by the US

October 5, 2011

One year after the filing of an urgent petition on behalf of seven Pakistani citizens illegally imprisoned by the US military, Pakistan’s judiciary has been accused of deliberately dragging its feet in order to avoid dealing with the case.

The petition, which demands simply that the Pakistan Government uphold the constitutional rights of its citizens and cooperate in securing their release from Bagram Internment Facility in Afghanistan, was filed by Reprieve’s colleagues at Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) in October 2010 before the Lahore High Court.Since then, the case has been repeatedly transferred from one court to another because none is brave enough to touch the issue in question: the Pakistani and US authorities’ complicity in the wrongful abduction and rendition of Pakistani citizens.This week, on the anniversary of the case’s original filing, JPP appeared before the presiding judge three times. Each time he found a reason to delay the hearing.Eventually the case was adjourned, without being heard, and delayed again until October 10th 2011; a date only granted at the request of Barrister Sarah Belal.Barrister Sarah Belal of Justice Project Pakistan said: “It is no longer surprising that the government would want to want to delay this case, in light of their involvement and culpability. Today, however, it has become evident that the judiciary is also dragging its feet and delaying justice rightfully due to the seven Pakistani citizens. Nevertheless, we will continue to hope that the judiciary will rise to the occasion and reaffirm its independence.”ENDS Notes to editors  1. For more information contact: JPP Barrister Sarah Belal +92 321 844 9932 or investigator Maryam Haq +92 300 450 8234 in Lahore or Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s London press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082 / +44 (0) 7791 755 415. 2. Justice Project Pakistan is a non-profit law firm established in Lahore in January 2010. The JPP provides support to those prisoners who are the most vulnerable in the criminal justice system, namely those facing the death penalty and those who are held beyond the rule of law in secret prisons.   3. Originally used to process prisoners captured during Operation Enduring Freedom, Bagram Internment Facility has become backlogged with prisoners who are held for years without charge, trial or legal rights. Hamidullah Khan, for example, was picked up while travelling from Karachi to his father’s village in Waziristan to salvage the family’s possesions during the ongoing military operation. He was just fourteen. He is currently being held at Bagram and his family are desperate for his return.

Unlike detainees at Guantánamo, who can at least engage a legal team to represent them at a military hearing, prisoners at Bagram have no access to lawyers and thus are simply unable to challenge their detention. 

The seven prisoners on the JPP petition are Awal Noor, Hamidullah Khan, Abdul Haleem Saifullah, Faizal Karim, Amal Khan,Yunus Rahmatullah and Iftikhaar Ahmed. All seven are Pakistani citizens who are being held indefinitely at Bagram without access to lawyers and without having been informed of the evidence against them. Some have been there for many years. Some have been abused. One prisoner is merely 16 years of age and was seized two years ago at the age of 14. Another was not permitted to speak to his family for six years, and is believed to be in a grievous physical and psychological condition.The prisoners’ families have suffered severe emotional and economic hardship and are desperate to see their loved ones again. The father of Abdul Haleem Saifullah, upon learning that his son was in Bagram, became so sick with worry that he died one year later. Amal Khan’s mother breaks down each time she tries to speak to her son via the International Committee of the Red Cross. Awal Noor’s family, who relied on the income he earned repairing cars and then as a goat-herder, struggle to make ends meet.

In the last year the Obama Administration has attempted to legitimise Bagram Prison, claiming that conditions and procedures there have been improved, and conceding that many prisoners are wrongfully held. This case tests the Obama Administration’s resolve and the Pakistani Government’s commitment to securing the rights of its citizens in illegal detention facilities abroad.

The prisoners’ families have asked the Lahore Court to secure the immediate release of their loved ones, and to bring criminal charges against the Pakistani Government for violations of Pakistani and international law.

4. Reprievea legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.  Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’ Reprieve works closely with JPP on cases related to Pakistan.