Judge orders Pakistan Government to interview citizens held illegally by US at Bagram

October 21, 2011

A Pakistani judge has ordered the country’s Government to visit a US prison in Afghanistan in order to interview the seven Pakistani nationals illegally detained there – including one prisoner originally captured by UK forces in 2004.In response to a petition filed by non-profit law firm Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a Lahore High Court judge ordered Pakistan’s Government to interview the seven detainees in Bagram Internment Facility, and to gather information to enable their lawyers to pursue their case before US authorities. The detainees include Yunus Rahmatullah, who was originally detained by British forces and subsequently rendered to Bagram, where he was held incommunicado for six years.  Noting that lawyers are not allowed to visit Bagram, the court has ordered the Government to seek official access to the notorious prison, and to report back within one month with detailed information about the seven Pakistanis, some of whom have been held beyond the rule of law for as long as eight years. JPP’s Sara Belal, barrister for the petitioners said: “This is a great moment for us, and for the innocent Pakistanis wasting away in Bagram. The judiciary has finally lived up to its promise of standing up for the ordinary citizens against the excesses of the State. Yet, we still have a long way to go and we will not stop fighting until these seven Pakistanis are actually released and reunited with their families in Pakistan.” Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said:  “While it is heartening to hear that these prisoners may be getting closer to release, the problem here is not the Pakistani Government – it is the US Government holding Pakistani citizens for years beyond the rule of law. The US must return to supposed American values – justice and the rule of law – and either give these men a fair trial or release them.” ENDS Notes to editors 1. For further information, please contact:JPP: Sarah Belal +92 321 844 9932 or Maryam Haq +92 300 450 8234  Reprieve: Katherine O’Shea or Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 20 7427 1099 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 possessions 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. 4. Reprieve, a 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.’