Handcuffs or not, let me take this call

Prisoners brought to city courts continue to flaunt ‘no cellphone use’ policy, often with tacit police consent

Shakir Sultan July 26, 2019

KARACHI: Given Pakistan’s devastating experience with terrorist attacks, it could be taken for granted that security would be the utmost concern of authorities when it comes to sensitive facilities like courts.

For city courts, however, tight security seems to be a matter of lip service with police adopting a rather lenient approach with regards to prisoners brought to city court lockups.

Despite the fact that the use of cellphones, at least in principle, is strictly prohibited in court premises, prisoners who are brought from jails can be seen using their phones freely even when police personnel are escorting them.

The lax enforcement of the ‘no cellphone’ policy increases risks of untoward incidents like terrorist attacks and escapes, such as those carried out by militant groups in the past.

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According to police officers speaking on the condition of anonymity, certain ‘black sheep’ within the force accept bribes in exchange for allowing prisoners to enjoy such illegal privileges that both violate the law and put innocent lives at risk.

“It’s no secret that many prisoners are allowed to freely use their cellphones when they are brought to the court,” president of the Karachi Bar Association Naeem Qureshi admitted.

“This matter shouldn’t be taken lightly as it can lead to untoward incidents and the Sindh Police must take responsibility for this security lapse.”

Every day, around 600 to 800 prisoners from the central jail, the Landhi jail, the central prison for women, the juvenile prison and the remand home are brought to the city court lockup for their hearings. Once they enter the court premises, they are chained up to be presented in the respective courtrooms under the supervision of the court police.

Under the law, as soon as the court’s hearing is over, the court police are bound to hand over the custody of the prisoners to the lockup police to ensure their safety and security.

Due to the corruption and negligence of certain police officers, however, prisoners are easily allowed to break the law and freely use their cellphones both before and after their hearings. Police officers do not even take the nature of the prisoners’ crimes into consideration.

“Every day, all types of prisoners, including dangerous suspects and terrorists are brought to the city court for the hearing of their cases,” a police officer said on condition of anonymity. “Nonetheless, they are allowed to use their cellphones which can make it easy for their companions to carry out terror attacks in the court to help the prisoners escape.”

The officer added that the risk that this negligent behaviour poses is not based on speculation or guesses but similar incidents have taken place in the past.

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When approached, the deputy inspector general of prisons Qazi Nazir Ahmed said that once prisoners reach the court premises, the responsibility of handling them lies with the court police, therefore, they should be the ones held responsible for security lapses or violation of laws.

Regarding the prohibition on the use of mobile phones by prisoners in court premises, the city court’s lockup in charge, sup-inspector Mirza Shahzad Baig said that the practice is not allowed under any circumstances.

“This is a very serious issue as prisoners can use the phone to threaten and pressurise their complainant parties which can create problems for the police,” Baig said.

“Since I have taken charge, I have given strict instructions that if any prisoner is found using mobile phones in court premises, the police officers responsible for handling the prisoner will be questioned and strict action will be taken against everyone involved.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2019.

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