Journalists invited to cover jail visit by minister locked out of facility
KARACHI: Misconduct on part of jail authorities and reluctance on part of the federal minister for human rights to allow journalists to accompany him during inspection marred his visit to the Central Jail Karachi on Thursday where he had arrived to observe prison conditions and talk to inmates.
The journalists who had been invited for media coverage of the visit waited for nearly two hours in the hope that they would be allowed to accompany federal minister Senator Kamran Michael during the jail inspection.
The media persons were harshly treated by jail staff and at one stage, they were locked inside an enclosure for some time before they could lodge protest with the minister.
Accompanied by government officials, Sen Michael, the federal minister for human rights, said: “I am extremely sorry that you had to wait. Actually, we can’t allow cameras inside the premises since it will be against the facility’s standard operating procedures. There is a jail security threat, too.” This explanation left many of the waiting journalists wondering why they had been invited for the jail inspection in the first place if the minister or officials were not ready to let them speak to the inmates and see prison conditions.
Ignoring journalists’ concerns, the minister continued his talk and said that to improve jail conditions, his team was preparing recommendations which would be shared with the provincial government.
“A major issue is of lack of space; the jail has the capacity to house 2,400 inmates, whereas it presently has 6,300 prisoners. We are recommending the construction of more barracks and shifting of under-trial prisoners in petty crimes to some rehab facility rather than keeping them here with hardened criminals,” he said.
He also expressed reservations over the presence of high-rise buildings surrounding the jail and said that they posed a security threat and the provincial government should give a thought to abolishing them.
On his interaction with jail inmates, he said there were many who either didn’t have the legal support or were involved in petty crimes and the ministry had asked for a list of such prisoners to extend assistance that included payment of their pending fines.
According to him, some foreign nationals are also languishing in the jail that the government wants to help but he couldn’t present any statistics when asked about their number.
According to officials, the jail presently houses 4,918 under-trial prisoners and 154 condemned prisoners. The number of total convicts is 353.
Rehana Leghari, special assistant to the chief minister of Sindh for human rights, said he had been requested to establish district jails to address the issue of overcrowding. Besides, she said, “There is no maternity home here. The 25-bed hospital here is insufficient, as it should at least have 500 beds.”
Although she claimed that psychiatrists visited the prison regularly, she couldn’t give any data when asked about the number of prisoners who suffered from physical or mental health problems and those who have died in recent years.
“Our department is working on it. We do have a rehabilitation centre here to help psychologically-ill patients,” she said in reply to a question.