Time served: 50 Nigerians still await release from jail

Home Department says waiting for travel documents.

Rana Tanveer July 15, 2012

LAHORE: Three weeks after the Lahore High Court ordered 50 Nigerian prisoners in the Punjab jails to be released for having serviced their sentence, the prisoners still remain in confinement. They have been in jails since 2011 when they were prosecuted for having incomplete or invalid travel documents.

Justice Abdul Sattar Asghar had on June 12, 2012 directed the home secretary to “do the needful expeditiously in accordance with the law” for their release after Advocate Awais Sheikh filed a petition challenging what he called the illegal confinement of the 50 Nigerians despite completion of their jail terms.

In the three-page order, Justice Asghar had ruled that a foreigner could not be confined for unlimited period for deportation under the Foreigners Act 1946.

The judge had observed that the High Commission of Federal Republic of Nigeria had requested on April 20, 2012 through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the prisoners be released so that their travel documents could be arranged.

The petitioner submitted that he, too, had written a letter to the Home Department in this regard.

He said some Nigerian prisoners were released on December 12, 2011; on January 21, 2012; and on February 11, 2012. However, 50 of them were still in jail (35 in Kot Lakhpat Jail, Lahore; 11 in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi; three in Faisalabad Jail; and one in a jail in Quetta).

He said he had asked the Home Department to release the prisoners and give them 15 days to enable them to obtain travel documents. The High Commission of Nigeria had already forwarded an emergency travel certificate to the Home Department, he said.

He said the Home Department feared that the prisoners would abscond.

“They (prisoners) are legally free now. The Home Department cannot keep them confined on account of some assumption,” the petitioner said.

The petitioner had requested the court to direct the Interior Ministry secretary, the Home Department secretary and the Prisons IG to release the prisoners.

A Home Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that there had been cases of foreigners absconding after they were given 15 days to obtain their travel documents. He said the Department had changed its policy early this year and decided to deport the foreigners from the jails on receiving complete travel documents.

Irfan, a Home Department section officer, who gave only his first name, said the confinement was not illegal. He said their cases were pending with the Federal Review Board (FRB). He said they were being kept in jails with FRB’s permission.

He said Article 10(4) of the Constitution allows keeping a person in detention for up to three months if his release is considered a threat to national security. He said the Nigerians had provided travel documents to the department, but they had turned out fake. He said they will only be released to be deported to Nigeria.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2012.


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