ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Friday or­dered the release of under-trial prisoners with minor crimes due to the rising threat of the coronavirus.

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah con­ducted hearing of a case pertaining to the release of 1,362 under-trial prisoners (UTPs) who are accused of crimes with less than 10 years of imprisonment and in­carcerated at the Adiala Jail in view of the coronavirus outbreak.

In this regard, the officials of Islamabad administration, the Advocate General Islam­abad, deputy inspector general police, dep­uty commissioner, health secretary, director general health and others appeared before the court.

The IHC bench noted in its order, “The above mentioned officials have appeared. They have informed that pursuant to decla­ration of “Public Emergency of International Concern” by the World Health Organization regarding challenges posed by the deadly corona virus outbreak, the Government of Pakistan has formulated a comprehensive National Action Plan.”

Justice Athar asked from Hamza Shafqaat, Deputy Commissioner, Islamabad, regard­ing the policy relating to persons incarcerat­ed in the prisons, particularly those whose cases are pending before the courts under the jurisdiction of the IHC.

Shafqaat informed the court that the pol­icy is to reduce the number of inmates and to regulate visitation of those prisoners who cannot be released.

The IHC order said that a report was sought from the Superintendent, Central Prison, Rawalpindi regarding the inmates whose cases are pending before courts un­der jurisdiction of this High Court. Accord­ing to the report, the authorized occupan­cy of the Central Prison, Rawalpindi, is 2174 while the number of its present inmates is 5001. The number of under trial prisoners whose cases are pending before the courts under the jurisdiction of this High Court is 1362. Majority of the incarcerated under tri­al prisoners are alleged to have committed offences which fall within the ambit of the non-prohibitory clause.

“It also appears that several convicted prisoners are above the age of 55 years and some suffer from serious illnesses which cannot be treated while incarcerated. In ap­propriate cases the Provincial Government is empowered under the Pakistan Prison Rules, 1978 read with section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 to sus­pend the sentence. It is also a fact that the conditions in the overcrowded prisons are appalling and that medical facilities are also inadequate,” said the court order.

Justice Athar stated that the WHO has de­clared emergency in the wake of the out­break of “corona virus” and the State of Pa­kistan has also formulated a comprehensive National Action Plan. In this regard the prin­ciple of “social distancing” has been adopted and is being strictly implemented.

The prisoners are vulnerable and exposed to suffer irreparably in case of an outbreak. Prisons, which are overcrowded, have high turnover and intolerable living conditions, could potentially become epicentre for out­break of the deadly virus.

The IHC CJ directed that the under trial prisoners alleged to have committed offenc­es falling within the ambit of the non-pro­hibitory clause are admitted to bail, subject to furnishing such surety or security as may be deemed appropriate by an officer au­thorized in this regard by the Deputy Com­missioner, Islamabad.