Tag Archives: Pakistan

Barrister Shahida Jamil Guides Tour of Judicial Complex and Jail

Tahir arranged an appointment for us to meet with Shahida Jamil, a well-respected lady barrister who (among several other current titles) was the former Federal Minister for Law, Justice and Human Rights in Pakistan.  Ms. Jamil would give us a tour of the “judicial complex” near the jail I’d visited the day before.The judicial complex is a small courthouse that Ms. Jamil donated as part of her own project to improve the justice process.  On the way there, she explained to me that she’d established this courthouse to help with the back-log of cases.  It was a small and somewhat temporary establishment (minimal computers, incomplete roofing design) that would work as a pilot project.  She selected the location near the jail because a huge reason for the backlog of cases, according to Ms. Jamil, is due to the expense of transporting the prisoners from the jail to the courthouse in the center of town. If successful, the government would hopefully throw its own funds into it and make it a larger complete establishment.  Unfortunately, the courthouse is not currently running ideally, and it has many problems.  Ms. Jamil and the LRF team, however, see hope.

Ms. Jamil wears an all white embroidered linen skirt and shirt set, her hair neatly arranged into a thick netted bun-like display, and a white matching scarf drapes and flows all over the place.  She gets out of the car with pride and faces the sign at the entrance: “FOUNDATION STONE LAID BY SHAHIDA JAMIL.” Tahir and I get out of the car, and Safi and Seema (two other LRF members) join as we walk through.  Ms. Jamil is greeted with respect and interest.  As we continue, Ms. Jamil points to a gate on the wall separating the courtroom grounds from the jail yards.  “The prisoners can enter through there, directly, without more than a 500 meter travel distance from the jail.” We follow her to the side yard of the courthouse, which was meant to be a visitation area.  She said the gates never held, and after some testing and investigation, large amounts of ammonia in the dirt hinted that the sewage from the entire jail had been backing up and released right in that yard.  It was supposed to make the connection to the city’s main sewage lines but plumbing problems prevailed.  I imagine that was the start of the problem: the initial costs suddenly got too high which deterred government efforts in the area.  Ms. Jamil said with some dedicated effort by attorneys and cooperation from the government, the sewage problem could be fixed and give way to a helpful establishment.

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Barrister Shahida Jamil, IBJ intern and LRF members stand at the entrance to the judicial complex as Ms. Jamil explains the greenery is a result of a sewage back-up.

We then visit the women’s jail next door.  Ms. Jamil is to my side telling me that the sewage back-up has led to rats in the women’s prison “attacking the babies that reside with the women.”  Ms. Jamil’s tone is strictly business each time she opens her mouth.  I don’t know how much of a problem the rats actually are – It’s hard to imagine a rat the size of her arm (which she gestures to me is the size of them) in a place that looks so serene.

We head to the juvenile prison.  Classes are in session, and we visit a whole row of them.  Each time we enter a room, the group of boys stands and greets us in unison.  The superintendent follows us around, while Ms. Jamil goes and looks at the kids’ assignments and asks a few question.  Tahir a couple times steps forward with pride and announces, “Who doesn’t have a lawyer?!” and then hands several kids each a business card.

As Ms. Jamil continues to oversee the classes, Seema (LRF member) comes to me with a mischievous secrecy and says, “You know, we are checking, and each of the students only has one assignment in his book.  There was no work from any time before today.  They just set up the classes for when we are coming.  They got the kids in there and the teachers came, but they really don’t have classes going on regularly.”  Hopefully this is a sign that the officials understand the importance of education in the lives of youthful offenders, particularly while in custody.  Ms. Jamil and the LRF team certainly have their hands full, but they seem to have the sprit to make things happen.

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Barrister Jamil, LRF members and juvenile jail superintendent say farewell after the jail visit.

 

LRF-Organized Lecture: Pakastani Public Prosecutor Abdul Maroof

The past few weeks, Legal Rights Form has advertised excitedly about their Juvenile Rights Training Forum, and the day finally came. The key speaker was Mr. Abdul Maroof, Public Prosecutor and former Assistant Inspector General of the prisons of Sindh (Karachi province, Pakistan).

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I thought I was going to be late because my rickshaw ride to Paradise Chambers (LRF office) took me to Paradise Center (NOT nearby). After a hustle, I arrived in the conference room to recall that punctuality is not the norm here. A couple hours later, after Javed and Safi, LRF members, opened the discussion of juvenile rights with an introduction of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), Mr. Maroof arrived. Late but not to disappoint!

Mr. Maroof settled into the head desk chair of the conference room of twelve eager listeners (11 Sindh-practicing lawyers and myself). With a sip of water and a click into English mode, he jumped into a well-organized and passionate lecture even before the office-help returned with the tea and sweets! The topic was juvenile rights in Pakistan: what is lacking and who is responsible. Thus he divided his lecture nicely into sections of responsibility: Police, Judge and Prison Officials. The final discussion period even turned out to be an informal Citizen or Lawyer Responsibility section.

The police are responsible to inform both the parents and a probation officer immediately upon custody of the child. Currently, police are not making the effort to inform parents, and there are only 3 probation officers in all of Sindh (See US State Department Human Rights Report 2008). Children do not get the attention they deserve but rather sit in jail unnoticed. Police do not generally even request bone ossification tests to determine the age of a youth. “A child is a child ONE DAY before his 18th birthday!” Mr. Maroof emphasizes.

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Mr. Maroof continues banging his hand on the desk when he discusses the importance of maintaining a child’s dignity, from arrest through the court process. Children are NOT to be handcuffed, NOT to be interrogated by officers in uniform, NOT to be judged by elevated judges in gowns and NOT to face the presence of the general public or media in court! Even in jail, children should not be ordered around by officers in uniform; they should have dedicated class schedules, should not live behind bars, and they should have access to both medical doctors and psychologists.

“Last night, as I left dinner to head back to the office, my son asked me when I would come home. I saw tears in his eyes when I said I would be late. I ask you now: if my son is upset to be detached from his father on a regular evening, JUST IMAGINE the mental state of these CHILDREN who have been torn away from home, sometimes without ANY contact to their parents. THIS IS A LOSS OF CHANCE!”

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I am moved to hear a prosecutor speak with such compassion for the accused. Mr. Maroof says we must begin with education: training of police, judges, prison guards, more probation officers. He says Sindh’s Social Welfare Department must be more involved, rather than just the Home Department, in getting funds. I asked whether he sees hope in getting young attorneys (like the present group) connected to other well-intentioned more powerful people (like those running government-run legal aid programs) to cooperate in pressuring for government action. His eyes light up: “Yes! Of course! They can and will. I have a recommendation: please go approach the Home Secretary and ask to be a non-official representative to visit the prisons.” He says people have the right to request to see the prisons, but people do not request to do so. Giving attention is a step in the right direction.

Mr. Maroof seems delighted to see the interest of this young group, and I, myself, left with a curious smile. Throughout my time in Pakistan, I’ve worked both with people who have power to get governmental support as well as young lawyers who may be less-powerful but are seriously passionate. I feel that uniting these groups is the best chance for progress. And Mr. Maroof’s lecture, by one who works with the stronger side, reaching out to the younger group, symbolized a spark in the connection I’d been hoping for.

Karachi Police Station Visits

 

Legal Rights Forum arranged to visit a few police stations in Karachi today.  Two car-fulls of attorneys and I pull up to the Artillery Maidan Police Station in one of the high security areas in Karachi.  We are greeted in an air-conditioned room that feels like it’s stamping the cigarette-smoke smell into your clothes.  An officer seems happy to answer our questions.  LRF is concerned about the techniques of the investigation officers as well as the force’s awareness of the 2000 Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) which provides that juveniles should be treated differently than adults.  Juveniles are not supposed to be hand-cuffed (unless the crime is heinous), they are not to be kept behind bars, and the ordinance provides strict rules about getting in contact with parents. 

Of the few officers in the room, none of them have received any special instruction as to the JJSO.  Only one knew it existed, and he took us to a dusty framed poster on the wall of the interior of the station that had some juvenile rights outlined.  It was made and provided by an NGO called “Advocate,” but it was outdated and not payed attention to. 

We then went into another room where another officer brought us the “tool kit” of the investigation officers.  He said proudly, “The officers have this kit with each time they make a single investigation.” 

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I looked for jars of glitter because I thought I’d seen this kit before in my kindergarten class on craft day.  I can’t imagine these glue sticks, plastic gloves and scotch-tape fingerprint set are the most reliable of methods on which a person’s freedom should rely.  The officer continues, “We do not use unfair methods to get confessions, only psychological methods…”  What does that mean?  Psychological methods?  I ask: is there a science to these psychological methods?  He says (as I understand through what was translated back to me), “Of course, medical students are trained in this.”  Javed, a friend of LRF who is with us on the visit says to me, “Sounds like not,” with an unfortunate smile.

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At the next police station, the Boat Basin and Clifton area station, we are greeted in another stale but cool room.  The officers here have the same lack of awareness as to the juvenile ordinance and nonchalant attitude about answering our questions.  They seem to understand that their responses are inadaquate, but don’t seem to feel responsible.  Here, as the officers realize the practices are not up to code, they admit suboptimal performance and cite lack of budget.  They simply don’t have the budget to get continuous training, they don’t have any information in their syllabus on the juvenile code, and they all admit their salaries are insufficient.  Javed looks at me during the salary discussion as a cue because I’d been asking the previous week about officers accepting bribes. 

Another try at questioning the psychological tricks method: what are the psychological tricks?  An officer responds, “We look to see if the accused is jittery or anxious, sweating…”  Javed says, “Did you have any training in this?”  The guy directly says, “No, none at all.”  I was surprised that he seemed to know that that question ended it.  He didn’t even try to pretend he had some superior intellectual ability to judge guilt.

Safi of LRF hands over the framed posters citing several key sections of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, which the stations agree to post.  LRF, in its visits to each police station, also requests for the officers to fill out a simple questionnaire on the juvenile rights.  Tahir is compiling summaries of these questionnaires to draw attention to the lack of awareness in the police stations.

 

Karachi Youthful Offender Remand Home Visit

Today we have a visit to the remand home, where Legal Rights Forum wants to establish a Juvenile Rehabilitation (Career Training) Center.  In the cab we go, and we drive about 20 minutes outside of Karachi’s center to the home.

 remand-home.jpgRemand Home Entrance

When we get to the home, Safi – an LRF advocate – stops at the fruit cart outside and buys several bushels of bananas for the youthful accused living there.  Living in the home currently are 15 young boys.  The number fluctuates, depending on the pending cases.  Juveniles between the ages of 12 and 16 are referred to the home by judges.  Youth who cannot post bail or those who cannot meet surety fees and thus are not released are among the residents.  The head of the home is quite friendly and greets us with respect.  He is happy to accept the poster Tahir brings for display in the home – the poster states in simple terms the rights that juveniles have according to law along with contact information for LRF in case they feel they’ve been mistreated. 

The head of the remand home leads the way to visit the inside and talk to the kids.  As we walk toward where they are, several guards jump to our defense.  I’m not a gun expert, but at least two dudes cock what look like automatic rifles.  From that display, I’m expecting crazy-eyed wild children or something, but just as I looked ahead, there were a couple rows of young nervous-looking kids.  As soon as they saw us, they quickly stood, nodded their heads and said in unison, “Asalam-e-lekom” for a peaceful greeting.  I felt awkward that these kids were obligated to jump to attention like that just because of our presence.  We told them to please be comfortable and seated, which they cautiously did with a glance the head guy. 

“Would you like to speak with them?” Safi asked me.  I’m thinking: um, not really; I felt so strange about demanding anything from these kids.  I guess in a way I’m naïve to think they looked so innocent and nervous.  About half of them have these astonishingly bright blue-green eyes that make such a notable contrast with their somewhat dark skin tones and hair.  Safi picks one of the older-looking ones and asks him to come to the front and talk to us a bit.  Safi’s tone is serious and the kid is a bit shaky.  He loosened up a bit as Safi just asked some basic questions.  He’d been arrested with 3 sticks of opium.  Saima translated for me as Safi asked the kid whether he had been mistreated by the police.  He said no.  Another younger looking kid was sitting toward the front with a look of mischief.  He was 12.  I was curious to hear his charge.  When I heard, I was shocked: attempted murder?!  Turns out his case had been reported in newspapers: he found a 5 or 6-year old neighbor child had been strangled and went to tell the child’s parents.  The parents then accused him of the strangling.  This kid had been staying in the home for two months as he waited for court proceedings.  This is the only remand home in the country, and he has to travel hours to get to court.  LRF dreams more homes can be established throughout the country.  It’s on the list of goals. 

For now, LRF looks forward to developing its Juvenile Rehabilitation Program in the remand home: 3- or 6-month courses on electronics’ hardware training for the children.  The courses also have lectures on ethics and morality.  Tahir, of LRF, has spoken to some business centers around Karachi, 3 of which have agreed to provide work to skilled hands that emerge from the program.

 

Intern’s Introduction to Karachi City Court

Tahir, the Legal Rights Forum Chairman and 2008 JusticeMakers Fellow, and his roommate pick me up at 10:30am to head to Karachi City Court.   On the way, Tahir tells me of the people I will meet at the courthouse today and points out legal buildings and landmarks on the way.  We drive into parking for advocates (lawyers), say goodbye to Tahir’s roommate who is also a lawyer and wander through the court grounds.  The courthouse has five main buildings, one for each district: North, South, East, West and Central.  We head to the East district building to a meeting room.  On the way, I see a range of people: from prisoners in 6-person handchains, to parent-child sets, from poor beggars to rich officials, including of course lawyers, judges and police.  I can see hints of the hierarchy among the lawyers and other government officials, but I have yet to sort it out.

Malik Tahir Iqbal, IBJ’s 2008 JusticeMakers Fellow and Chairman of Legal Rights Forum.

During the five-minute walk to the meeting place, I was mentally drained as I accepted being a magnet for eyes.  From out of nowhere, a beautiful necklace of fresh flowers was draped over me.  I turned to be introduced to the modest confidence of Saima, an LRF advocate who I’d been in touch with over email.  Before I could finish that introduction, another flowery string came from the opposite direction.  In seconds, I’d been introduced to tens of people whose names I struggled to retain, and my hair smelled very fresh.  I followed introductions through a set of smiles and chatter into a room where tea and cookies were brought.  I was asked to give a small speech with introduction of myself.

Greeting Intern’s greeting in City Court

At the courthouse, after tea and introductions, I went on a tour of the East building, guided by Saima and Safi, two LRF members. Safi, an LRF advocate, walks me over to a set of chained accused to show me the handchains.  The chains grind around the wrists where they leave clear welts on the skin.  LRF would like to petition the legislature to make 6-person chains illegal, but there are more primary problems.  If the police are not following the laws, the petition to change the law seems secondary.  Tahir says the type of cuff used on the prisoners, a chain-link cuff, is already illegal but the police use them anyway.  Tahir said the police who retain the accused claimed they did not have the other type of handcuffs; advocates requested the legal cuffs from a government office which were apparently sent but are still not used.  Another man I’m brought to see suffered a beating on the day of his arrest.  He claims the police beat him, and the police say it was other people.  The police did not fill out the required medical form, so the truth is uncertain.  LRF is concerned for cases like this.  These accused citizens have the right to be treated properly as well as for legal representation.  

Illegal ChainsIllegal Chain Links Grouped AccusedPrisoners Chained in Groups

Legal Rights Forum begins poster campaign in Pakistan

To increase membership in the JusticeMakers online community, Tahir and the Legal Rights Forum (LRF) have started advertising by distributing JusticeMakers cards at the Karachi Bar Association and other district bar associations. They have reported a positive response from young and more senior lawyers alike, and are excited at the prospect of having dedicated and determined individuals contributing their professional skills to our cause.

In addition, the LRF have prepared posters to inform the public on juveniles’ rights, specifically the mechanism of accountability under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 which is intended to end torture of juveniles in prisons. Conscious of the credibility that ties with international organizations lend, the LRF have put an International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) and JusticeMakers logo on the poster. The posters are being displayed at police stations, and target not only police officers but also visitors and detainees.

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Legal Rights Forum hosts conference on juvenile delinquency, prominent Pakistani organizations attend

On the 29th March of this year, the Legal Rights Forum (LRF) hosted a conference on issues concerning juvenile delinquency. A number of important NGOs and civil society organizations attended, including the NGO Resource Centre, the Aga Khan Foundation, the Federal Ministry on Human Rights, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), the Karachi Bar Association, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), and a number of government personnel.

The agenda covered an array of diverse yet pertinent topics. Prominent lawyers discussed the issue of establishing separate juvenile courts – as outlined in the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000 – and the procedure that should be adopted in those courts. Dr. Khalid Iqbal spoke about juveniles who are suffering from infectious and/or contagious diseases and require prolonged medical treatment, in addition to juveniles who suffer from psychological problems. A discussion about the launch of a Rehabilitation Centre for Juveniles in Karachi was also on the agenda. The Centre would include a welfare center and would provide vocational and technical training, thereby facilitating juvenile delinquents’ personal development and easing the process of reintegration into society.

In his closing address, the Chairman of the LRF stressed the importance of the Right to Education, especially when concerning juveniles. He said that a Vocational and Technical Training Centre would give hope to juveniles in the increasingly competitive and globalized society in which we live. Participants then thanked the Chairman for his tireless efforts in advocating for juvenile rights. The evening ended with a dinner in celebration of Malik Tahir Iqbal for his success in the 2008 JusticeMakers Fellowship competition.

JusticeMakers team fights case involving police abuse and extortion in Pakistan

Legal Rights Forum‘s latest case involves police corruption and violation of legal rights. An eye witness recorded the license-plate number of a getaway car. The witness says that of the five accused, three fled on foot while the other two escaped in the car. However upon receiving a bribe from the accused, the police effectively erased the license-plate number and any mention of the car from police records. They then recorded a new license plate number for the getaway car – that of a rental car – and identified seven new suspects. The police submitted this misinformation in their final report. To make matters worse, the police have been accused of serious violations of the rights of the accused; in addition to physically abusing the suspects, the police did not ensure that the identification process was carried out by a magistrate, as required by law, but instead illegally went through the process in the police station.

The LRF filed a bail application, in addition to arguing for the release of the suspects based on Section 265-K of the Criminal Procedure Code, which states that the accused can be acquitted at any stage, “Where the charge is groundless and there is no possibility of conviction of the accused.” The verdict of the case is still to be determined.

Tahir and the LRF work to ensure safer prison conditions for juveniles

JusticeMakers fellow Malik Tahir Iqbal paid a visit to the Malir Courts District Jail with two other members of the Legal Rights Forum team, Safi-ud-din and Shoiab Safdar. The main purpose of the visit was to assess whether juvenile prisoners are being held in a secure environment and that their legal rights and protections are being upheld.

The team spoke with various police-officials, including the chief officer, and asked them to fill out questionnaires. It quickly became evident that a number of them were unaware of the existence of any legal rights for juveniles.

Juvenile and women prisoners were being held at the same institution, and two of the cells at the Malir Courts District Jail were holding both adult male prisoners and juveniles. The team also met with inmates to hear views on the conditions they are subjected to. They complained about the behavior of two specific police-officers and the LRF have promised to take action.malirinmates.JPG

Pakistan’s LRF work to prevent police violence against juveniles

On the 6th of March of this year the Legal Rights Forum (LRF) held a press conference at Karachi Press Club to highlight the issue of police violence against children.

LRF Chairman and 2008 JusticeMakers fellow, Malik Tahir Iqbal, chose to focus on one case in particular – that of a seventeen year old boy who was accused of alleged robbery. The child’s grandmother had filed a petition for the release of her grandson at the Malir Court in January of this year. The child had also been arrested for robbery in 2006, but then released on bail.According to the findings of the LRF team, the child was arrested late one night and was held at a police station, where he was subjected to mental and physical torture and sexual abuse – acts that constitute a gross violation of child and human rights, as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and under Pakistan’s Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000. Neither his family nor his probation officer were informed of the arrest. youthful_offenders_prison_310309.bmp
pressconference.jpg Although the child claimed that the allegations against him were false, he was told that if he did not confess to the crime, a video of him being abused and tortured would be distributed online. The video was recorded on a mobile phone, and then uploaded to the internet from a local cyber-café. The child’s family and friends say that this act constitutes an act of extortion and blackmail. His father, a wealthy man who has been working abroad in the UK, said that the family has already given money to numerous police officers in an attempt to end the circulation of the video.

At the press conference, the LRF team strongly recommended that a government appointed official conduct further investigation into this case and that the government of Pakistan ensure the future protection of the child and his family.