March 5th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto on Wednesday was refused permission to meet Shahbaz Sharif, a fellow parliamentarian and leader of opposition in National Assembly, at the latter’s official residence in the Minister’s Enclave designated as a sub-jail. However, the Pakistan Prison Rules accord no special privilege to parliamentarians for unrestricted access to prisons and prisoners.
Shahbaz Sharif was brought on a production order from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail to participate in the senate elections in Islamabad. After casting his vote in the senate election in the parliament building, Sharif was moved to his official residence. Shahbaz Sharif is in judicial custody in a corruption reference before an accountability court in Lahore.
The PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto wanted to congratulate Shahbaz Sharif upon the victory of Yousaf Raza Gillani, a joint senatorial candidate of the PDM, against finance minister Abdul Hafiz Sheikh. Bhutto along with Senator-elect Yousaf Raza Gillani and PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal approached police officials outside the residence in the evening, telling police officials that as a parliamentarian and chairperson of the National Assembly standing committee of Human Rights, he had the privilege to visit any jail for inspection.
However, police officials informed the PPP chairperson that the residence is a sub-jail, and permission from the Islamabad Chief Commissioner was required for any visit with the prisoner. Bilawal Bhutto told police officials that they were breaching the privileges of a parliamentarian and he would take up this refusal in the National Assembly. The assembled leaders left the residence without meeting Shahbaz Sharif.
According to a former prison official, parliamentarians enjoy no special privilege of unrestricted access to prisons and prisoners. They have to seek permission from the Home Department, the Prisons Inspector General or the Superintendent of the Jail concerned to visit a prison and meet any prisoner.
What does the jail manual say about visits by a parliamentarian?
The prison rules also do not allow unrestricted access to parliamentarians to inspect, visit and meet prisoners. Parliamentarians including MPAs, MNAs, and Senators can be appointed non-official visitors to prisons located in their constituency under the prison rules. The non-official visitors are notified by the Home Department after a nomination from a selection board headed by the respective DCO of the district concerned.
According to Pakistan Prison Rules, 1978 amended for Punjab, “A member of the National Assembly, the Senate and the Provincial Assembly of Punjab may, during the term of his membership, be appointed ex-officio nonofficial visitor of the prison situated in the district concerned,” reads sub-rule (vi) (a) of rule 917.
Under the Punjab prison rules, ‘every member of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab shall have the authority to inspect the prison of the district concerned during office hours with prior intimation.
Official visitors need no intimation
Under Rule 918 sub-rule (i), It is not necessary for non-official visitors to give prior intimation to the prison about the intended visit. All visitors are to be afforded every facility for observing the state of the prison and its management and shall be allowed access under proper regulations, to all parts of the prison and to every prisoner.
All official or non-official visitors can Inspect the barracks, cells, wards, workshops, and other buildings of the prison generally and the food. They can hear petitions made by or on behalf of prisoners and direct these petitions to be forwarded to the government.
No visits at night, public holidays
The official and non-official visitors have been barred from inspecting and visiting prisons after the prisoners have been locked up for the night. Similarly, no visits are allowed on any public holiday or Friday under Rule 922.
Bar on the interview of political prisoners
Under Rule 924, a visitor cannot interview a political prisoner except in the presence of the Superintendent or the Deputy Superintendent. Similarly, visitors are not permitted without the express consent of the Superintendent to interview more than one prisoner at a time. Anything in the nature of meeting or conference whether for the discussion of political topics for the ventilation of prison grievances is strictly prohibited under Rule 925.