February 9th, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
A senior official of Larkana prison on Wednesday hoped that a standoff with inmates would be resolved peacefully in the next 24 hours with the release of seven prison staff held hostage for the last six days.
Meanwhile, family members of captive prison staff and citizens staged a demonstration outside the jail to call for the early release of the prison staff. The protesters called on the provincial government to take notice of the hostage situation and take appropriate measures to secure the release of the prison staff.
The prison staff was held hostage on February 4 after the jail administration refused to allow the return of one of 13 dangerous prisoners shifted to other prisons of the province. “The prison administration is holding negotiations with ring leaders of the prisoners to peacefully resolve the hostage standoff,” Ashfaq Kalwar, senior superintendent of Central Jail Larkana, told Voicepk.net by phone from Larkana.
According to the senior jail superintendent, most hostage prison staff had volunteered to become hostages at the hands of prisoners to pressurise the administration. In videos shared on social media in the last few days, the hostages and hostage-takers can be seen criticizing the jail administration over its inaction towards freeing them.
Kalwar said that inmates would release hostage prison officials peacefully, adding that the use of force remained the last option. He said the prison administration would not give in to the demand of the hostage-takers to allow the return of Mohammad Ali Khokhar, a dangerous prisoner, who was shifted to Shikarpur Jail from Larkana Jail.
“The hostage drama is a tactic to blackmail the prison administration as well as it challenges the writ of the law,” Kalwar said.
He said Khokhar was among 70 dangerous prisoners who shifted out of the Larkana jail last month as part of measures to bust the nexus between prison officials and prisoners that had turned Larkana jail into the most undisciplined and unruly prison in the country.
“Khokhar had a court order for his return to Larkana Jail but we approached the judge who has recalled the order,” Kalwar said. He said if the administration had allowed the prisoner’s return it would have been forced to accept other such prisoners too.
The previous jail superintendent was removed last year after media reports highlighted the culture of drug smuggling and corruption inside the prison in connivance with officials. Since taking charge of the prison in July, Kalwar said 12 cases were registered against inmates seized with narcotics and contrabands. “We have also transferred 13 prison officials of dubious repute to other jails,” he said.
Kalwar said one prison official was recently sentenced to 15 months by a court after being found guilty of peddling drugs to prisoners which he used to conceal inside his shoes. “Certain notorious prisoners were also running their rackets from inside the prison,” he said.
The senior prison official said such measures had turned prisoners and certain jail staff against the administration, leading to episodes of rioting since last month. “There are about 100 inmates involved in the hostage-taking as well as fomenting riots inside the prison,” Kalwar said.
“The prison administration would not succumb to illegal demands and blackmailing by these trouble makers,” he added.
Kalwar said Sindh IG Prisons Qazi Nasir had tasked him with restoring order and discipline in Larkana jail, considered the most undisciplined and unruly prison in the country. “Initially, we decided against launching a cleanup operation in prison due to overcapacity of prisoners and reported the presence of firearms, sticks, and iron rods with prisoners,” he said, adding that the administration wanted to avoid any human collateral damage in the process.
In his view, there was a dire need to launch a grand operation to seize contrabands and weapons inside Larkana jail. “A grand operation can be possible only with the help of all stakeholders and law enforcement agencies,” he pointed out.