We often hear about the dismal state of Pakistani prisons, how they are overcrowded and run by wardens with no concept of humanity. But things are not much better in other parts of the world. Eight Pakistanis in Thailand, awaiting deportation to serve the remainder of their sentences back home, died in inhumane conditions between 2005 and 2010. That four of them chose to commit suicide rather than wait to be sent home shows just how brutal the prisons in Thailand are. A local human rights group in the country, the Thai Committee of Refugees, has provided scathing testimony of how badly those seeking asylum are treated in detention centres. According to the group, cells are so tightly packed that not everyone has a place to sleep and they all have to share bathrooms. Medical assistance is scarce and authorities care little for the detainees.
The uncaring attitude of the Thai authorities, however, does not absolve the government of Pakistan and its High Commission in Thailand of responsibility. A treaty was signed between the two countries in 2007 that allowed Pakistani prisoners who have served one-third of their sentences or four to eight years to be repatriated. The treaty was not implemented till December 2009 and in that year-and-a-half, many Pakistanis have languished in Thai prisons. Stuck in prisons that could be better described as concentration camps, these prisoners could rely only on the embassy to help them out. That help was not forthcoming. To compensate for its earlier neglect, the embassy must now push the Thai government to investigate these deaths, punish those responsible and ensure basic humanitarian standards are observed. At the same time, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that the prisoners who have made it back to Pakistan will be treated any better here. Pakistani prisons share, and may even exceed, the worst features of Thai prisons. Any outrage over the deaths of eight of our citizens in Thailand will ring hollow so long as we follow the same model back home.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2011.
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