Seven prisoners died and more than 40 inmates and seven policemen were injured in a protest on Tuesday that brewed over a cup of tea at the Hyderabad Central Jail.
Trouble started cooking nearly four days ago. The prisoners of jail I started to get upset when superintendent Younus Masih was replaced by Pir Shabbir Jan Sarhandi who took charge on March 11. Since then, there were occasional standoffs between the jailers and the prisoners, who refused to mark their attendance or be locked up at sundown, but none as severe as the protest which began nearly 24 hours ago.
According to deputy superintendent Mansoor Ahmed, there was an electricity breakdown in the area on Monday night which cut off the water supply to the prison. The reduced gas supply from Sui exacerbated the conditions and the prisoners felt that they were being tortured on purpose. When they did not receive their breakfast tea on Tuesday morning, they took to the top of the barracks in protest.
Additional police were summoned from nearby stations but the authorities decided to negotiate with the prisoners at first. Representatives of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz and Pakistan Peoples Party-Shaheed Bhutto went inside the jail and talks began.
As the bullet-proof jackets piled up and the armoured vehicles queued up, the police began the operation without waiting for the political representatives to emerge. Gunshots rang out and the jail turned into a battlefield as the politicians ran for their lives. “We were just finishing the negotiations when the operation started,” said the PPP’s Amanullah Sayal. As soon as the police entered, the inmates started pelting them with stones and bricks. Market SHO Tariq Khanzada and a DPO’s gunman were injured. The inmates managed to take six jail officials hostage and seized their Kalashnikovs as well. As soon as they got the weapons, the prisoners opened fire at the law enforcers.
According to the jailers, it was the resulting firing from the police that killed prisoners Shafiq Rajput, Ghulam Mustafa Khaskheli, Aziz Khoso, Ali Ghulam, Hakim Malah, Nadir Magsi and another prisoner and injured over 40 inmates. The police denied, however, that there were any casualties and refused to confirm the identities of the inmates.
Apart from Khanzada, City SPO Ahmed Qureshi, Pinyari SHO Ibrahim Pitafi, ASI Irtiza Jatoi and constable Hakim Jatoi, were injured and had to be taken to Civil hospital.
The initial four hours of the operation were intense as it was during this time that the casualties took place. After the initial encounter, armoured vehicles entered the premises once again and ordered all the prisoners to go inside their barracks. They were later locked up as the police searched the inmates one by one. During this time, the police also released the six jail officials who were being held hostage.
Hyderabad District police spokesperson Mazhar Shani said that they seized more than 600 mobile phones, a pistol, a repeater gun and alcohol during the search operation.
Meanwhile, the relatives of the prisoners also gathered outside when they heard about the operation and later started protesting when they could not find any details about what was going on inside. They also pelted stones at the police, who resorted to aerial firing to disperse the crowd.
As the operation continued until last reports, a heavy contingent of police was deployed inside and around the jail.
When Sindh Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed found out about several injuries among prisoners he alerted the staff of Civil Hospital, Hyderabad. Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz activists also forced shops in Nasim Nagar to close down to protest the operation and announced a strike in Hyderabad today to condemn the operation. PPP Shaheed Bhutto also supported the strike.
Hyderabad Central Jail 1 was set up a century ago. It has 28 barracks and 300 cells and there were 1,709 prisoners in the attendance on Tuesday.
Court appoints officer to investigate operation
Sindh High Court Chief Justice Mushir Alam took suo motu notice of the search operation and appointed the Hyderabad district and sessions judge as an inquiry officer to find out what happened and why it happened. He also directed him to prepare a report immediately. According to SHC sources, the judge took notice when he saw the breakdown inside the prison on several TV channels.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2011.