The news that Saudi Arabia has released 579 Pakistanis under royal clemency is a welcome step and a sigh of relief for the inmates and their families whose ordeal is finally over. It is also a step towards fulfillment of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s promise to free 2100 prisoners during his visit to Pakistan in February this year.
Prime Minister Imran Khan had raised the issue with MBS personally. The Saudi royal reassured our premier and said he should that he should be considered as the ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia. Now he has finally delivered but a lot remains to be done about Pakistanis incarcerated in various cities in the Kingdom.
Most of the released prisoners were held for various offences including forgery, drug trafficking, illegal border crossing, theft and bribery, while one was involved in a case of rape. They were sentenced between one to five years in prison.
The Saudi government has already released around 3,400 Pakistanis held in various deportation camps, but an estimated 2800 still remain in prison. The Saudi justice system is not transparent and legal counseling is not provided while punishments are swiftly carried out. In April this year, a Pakistani couple was executed for smuggling heroin in the country.
Many Pakistani labourers go to Saudi Arabia to seek work and send money back to their families. They belong to working-class households and often spend their entire life savings to go abroad. Many are deceived by agents or threatened by criminal organisations and drug traffickers. They have no access to consular representation or any assistance from Pakistani authorities.
Pakistan must expedite efforts for the release of its citizens in Saudi Arabia. It should also make serious efforts to seek release of Pakistanis in other countries around the world particularly where its missions are not present for justice delayed is justice denied.
Pakistani embassies should seek consular access in case any citizen is arrested, detained, or faces a criminal charge. The mission will need to provide legal access to inform citizens about the charges being faced, due judicial process, while making efforts to secure their release.
Prime Minister Imran Khan must play his role and persuade the Saudi leadership and other world leaders to grant a fair trial to jailed Pakistanis, revisit their judicial system, or grant them a pardon, if he wishes to win the hearts of his citizens, especially those who pray to see their loved ones return home.