Thousands of Pakistanis languishing in Saudi jails 'without rights', human rights groups say

Thousands of Pakistanis languishing in Saudi jails 'without rights', human rights groups say
A joint report by two human rights groups has slammed the treatment of Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia, saying criminal suspects in particular are vulnerable to discrimination and power abuses.
2 min read
08 March, 2018
Saudi Arabia is one of the world's leading executioners [file photo-Getty]

Thousands of Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi Arabia and dozens sentenced to death have been denied their legal rights to a defence, a report in Islamabad warned Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia executes more Pakistanis than any other foreign nationality annually, the vast majority for heroin smuggling, a joint study by the Justice Project Pakistan and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

Between 2014 and 2017, 66 Pakistanis were beheaded in the kingdom, the report entitled "Caught in a Web" said.

"You not only have the death sentence, but you have it without due process or elementary fair trial," Saroop Ijaz, an HRW researcher, told AFP.

Pakistani migrants are "exceptionally disempowered and marginalised", Ijaz told agency, saying they face a "premodern discriminatory" criminal justice system in Saudi Arabia.

With 1.6 million nationals, Pakistanis constitute the second largest foreign community in Saudi Arabia, mostly working in un-skilled labour with few rights.

Some 2,795 Pakistanis are currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, the study says.

A Pakistani man was executed on Tuesday in Mecca, convicted of drug trafficking, local media reported.

Four others were reportedly executed last month for raping and killing a woman and raping her teenage daughter, according to state news agency.

Detained Pakistanis "have braved a system that puts them in periods of detention without charge or trial, no access to legal assistance, pressure on detainees from the authorities to sign confessions and accept predetermined prison sentences to avoid prolonged arbitrary detention", said Sarah Belal, executive director for JPP.

Inefficient translation services means Pakistani suspects often sign confessions without even knowing it.

Ijaz also blamed Islamabad for not doing enough to help.

"The Pakistani government has not shown either the willingness or the capacity to defend its citizens who are facing a harsh and discriminatory justice system."

Under the kafala system in force in Saudi Arabia, which regulates the status of migrant workers, many are prohibited from changing jobs before the end of their contract if their employer objects to it.

This is a restriction which NGOs call forced labour or even slavery.

Since the beginning of the year, 31 people of all nationalities have been executed in Saudi Arabia, according to an AFP count.