22 February 2023
By Hania Khan
PTI’s “jail bharo tehreek” entered its second day on Thursday in Peshawar, protesting against human rights violations, abuse of the constitution, inflation & economic meltdown. But with prisons already operating at 144% capacity, the move may put more pressure on the already burdened system & increase the risk of diseases among inmates.
As Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) “Jail Bharo Tehreek” (Court Arrest Drive) enters its second day in Peshawar, a fundamental question that arises is the already harsh reality of the country’s overcrowded prisons. The movement started in Lahore, spearheaded by party leaders Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar, both of whom volunteered to court arrest on Wednesday.
The move is meant to be a symbolic statement of the political party against the ‘violation of fundamental rights’, ‘abuse of the Constitution’, ‘unprecedented inflation’, and ‘economic meltdown’.
Fawad Chaudry took to twitter to voice the sentiment behind the movement, writing, “The Tehreek’s second day will witness PTI leaders and activists giving the message of [real] freedom by courting their arrests and embracing the shackles”. “Peshawar will follow Lahore in its pursuit of justice and staging a protest against inflation,” he added.
And yet the overcrowded prisons of Pakistan cannot seem to accommodate any more people. In making their quest to court arrest symbolic, the PTI leaders seem to have completely waived aside the problem of prison overcrowding – a major challenge, and the fact that prison inmates are struggling to find the space to occupy space and live in squalid conditions.
The prisoners themselves have voiced these concerns in an open letter that they wrote to the Chief Minister of Punjab in 2021, citing one reason for the overcrowded jails being the under-trial prisoners are not the same as convicts as “their trials are pending, (and) in the eyes of the law they are innocent until proven guilty”.
IN THIS REGARD THE ASMA JAHANGIR LEGAL AID CELL (AGHS) HAS DONE EXTENSIVE RESEARCH AND DATA SHOWS THAT THERE ARE CURRENTLY 52,768 PRISONERS IN PAKISTAN’S JAILS, WHILE THE CAPACITY OF THESE PRISONS IS ONLY 36,806. THIS MEANS THAT PAKISTANI JAILS ARE ALREADY OPERATING AT A CAPACITY OF A SHOCKING 144%.
The problem of overcrowding in Pakistani prisons is not new, and human rights organizations like Amnesty International have been drawing attention to it for years. Crowded conditions inside prisons also increase the risk of the spread of diseases among the inmates and in fact it was a major challenge to control COVID-19 when it first began to spread.
According to a report issued by the federal ombudsperson, 500 prisoners across the country are currently suffering from potentially fatal illnesses.
While the PTI ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ has been gaining momentum, especially in Lahore, the fact is, this decision to court arrest en masse could add more pressure to an already burdened system.
It remains to be seen whether the PTI’s demonstration will achieve its intended goals of protesting against the ‘violation of fundamental rights,’ ‘abuse of the Constitution,’ ‘unprecedented inflation,’ and ‘economic meltdown.’