In scenes evoking the memories of the March 2011 Hyderabad jail operation which left seven inmates dead and scores injured, prisoners lodged at the central prison gave full vent to their smouldering tensions with the administration again on Friday.
The inmates at Central Jail, Hyderabad took over the jail compound and held around 15 wardens hostage.
While one inmate, Sajjad Khaskheli, was confirmed dead as his body was taken to the Civil hospital, some reports suggested the death of another prisoner. Eleven injured policemen were also shifted to the Civil hospital. They were all badly beaten by the prisoners.
Sources in the jail hospital said that three prison wardens, Maqbool Hajano, Dost Muhammad Chandio and Munir Ali, and three more prisoners were badly hurt.
In March last year, the police force of seven districts had taken part in an operation at the prison which concluded in restoring the jail police’s control over the hitherto lawless prisoners. The action had invited a judicial inquiry of the matter and the Sindh High Court ordered that operation cannot be carried out without its permission.
On Friday, the police-inmates hostilities erupted around 10am in the morning when, according to the police account, the prisoners argued with the wardens over access to the restricted areas. However, the police sources also blamed the increasingly harsh conduct of the wardens for the resurging ferocity of the inmates. “Although there were no major complaints against the jail police, the prisoners wanted more freedom, extra hours out of their barracks [after sunset] and access to mobile phones,” said DIG Prisons Gulzar Channa.
When reminded of the high court orders, he described the police action inside the prison “not an operation”.
“We only acted when the prisoners tried to escape,” said Channa, even denying that the police aimed their guns at the inmates. “They only fired aerial shots,” he added.
This was in contrast to the scenes at the prison captured on camera with the police firing directly at the prisoners from the roof of the Jail Superintendent’s office.
According to the Hyderabad SSP, Haseeb Afzal Beg, around 200 district police personnel took part in the action against the rioting inmates. “The jail police cited fears of a jailbreak while seeking our help.”
The personnel of Rangers and Frontier Corps were also called in but they did not participate in the crackdown.
As the law enforcers moved in, the prisoners were warned through announcements that an operation will be launched if they do not release the hostages and go back to their cells. The police took around five hours and 30 minutes to rein in the mutinous inmates. The SSP confirmed that 52 prisoners were arrested as the police restored peace.
The exact cause of friction between the two sides could not be ascertained till the filing of this story. The prisoners are prohibited from using mobile phones in their lockups and could not be contacted to elicit their versions.
The prison houses around 1,800 inmates, most of them from outside Hyderabad. After the March 2011 operation, the high court had heard cases about prison reforms, secured funds for their rehabilitation and monitored the reconstruction. The time from March 2011 to July this year saw reforms at the central jail with computer centres imparting skills, video conference and public call office facilities, growth of crops and product manufacturing among some other developments.
During a recent press visit inside the jail, former superintendent Pir Shabbir Jan Sarhandi, displaying full authority over the prisoners had allowed journalists to visit any part of the prison. But the violent episode raises questions about the modus vivendi between the police and the inmates.
Meanwhile, the prisoners’ relatives, who had come from different districts, blocked the National Highway to protest the police action. They pelted passing vehicles with stones and burnt tyres.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2012.