Pleading with the reader at the court to let her inside, Zaiba Bibi, 55, is eager to lay eyes on her son who is there for a hearing. She knows she won’t get to see him again anytime soon as Swat does not have a prison and her son was brought to court from a prison in another district.
“I will be seeing him after four months,” she murmured to herself as she waited.
Like Zaiba Bibi, Rifat Begum has come to court to grab a few precious minutes with her loved one. She planned to meet her husband briefly just before he would be taken inside for the court proceedings after his name would be called out.
Another woman, Shabana, has also come for a similar purpose – to meet her elder brother.
Mopping sweat off her brow, Zaiba Bibi said she would have to travel all the way down to Central Prison Timergara in Lower Dir to meet her son. At her age, she says, she does not have the stamina to do so frequently.
“It used to take me an entire day to reach Timergara,” she said. “Then to make my case, I would have to share the food I carried all the way for my son with police officials and even bribe them.” Zaiba Bibi said even then, the prison guards would only let her meet her son around 2pm, right about when visitation would be about to end.
Nearly all the people waiting to meet their relatives at the court house demand a prison be constructed in Swat. Not many can afford the journey to other districts.
A facility of the past
However, it is not that Swat has always been without a prison.
Central Prison Swat was constructed in 1955 by the Wali of Swat but after cracks developed in it during the earthquake of October 8, 2005, it was deemed to risky to house inmates there. The very same month, around 500 prisoners were evacuated to the central prisons in Timergara in Lower Dir and Daggar in Buner.
“The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has approved Rs150 million in the current budget for the reconstruction of the jail,” said the current superintendent of the Swat prison police, Bakht Rawan Khan. He added a huge amount was approved for the reconstruction once before but the contractor left after working on the foundation.
Pointing towards the Swat prison which is now in shambles, Bakht Rawan says he and six jail staffers work at “the ruins”.
Police officer Ilyas Khan, deployed at the prison, told The Express Tribune what remains of the jail today. “There are only two quarters left inside the premises for the officials to live; the rest of the structure has been demolished for reconstruction but nothing has been built so far.”
A win for the small-time thief
Malakand DIG Muhammad Azad Khan agreed there was is a need for a prison in Swat. “There are times when a person accused of some small crime has to be sent to Timergara and Daggar.”
The DIG said, “These small-time convicts add to the overcrowding.” He admitted commissioners and DCs avoided taking action against profiteers and other minor violators of the law because there was no space in prisons in other districts.
Advocate Attaullah Jan also voiced his concerns about housing small-time criminals with high-profile murders or militants.
The long distance
According to Jan, often by the time their clients reach Swat for their hearing, it is too late in the day. The inmate ends up being transported back to their prison without a hearing. “This results in a huge monetary loss for the government,” said Jan.
With the travel it requires to bring the prisoners to Swat for their hearings; their upkeep at the prison where they are kept and other logistics, the cost of one prisoner is just too much, said officials.
According to Swat DC Mehmood Aslam Wazir, it costs the government Rs3.5 million per month just for transport and logistics. Going through the documents of the jail, he added the former DC of the district, Imtiaz Hussain, tried to establish a subjail but it couldn’t be done.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2015.
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