ISLAMABAD-In view of coronavirus outbreak, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday granted bail to 408 prisoners imprisoned at Adiala Jail under minor crimes.

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice AtharMinallah conducted hearing of this matter and approved bail petitions of 408 prisoners.

The IHC bench also directed to constitute two separate committees to materialise the release of 408 prisoners on bail.

He directed the Director General (DG) Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) to constitute the committee to scrutinise the cases of the prisoners of narcotics cases while Chief Commissioner and Inspector General Islamabad Police were directed to constitute the second committee to scrutinise the cases of prisoners involved in other offences.

Justice Athar noted in its order, “The petitioners are incarcerated in the Central Prison, Rawalpindi. They have sent their respective representations through the Superintendent, Central Prison, Rawalpindi. All the petitioners are under-trial prisoners alleged to have been involved in commission of offences under the Anti Narcotics Force Act, 1997. The offences are in the nature of non- violent crimes.”

“Keeping in view the extra ordinary situation that has arisen due to the novel Covid-19 (“Corona Virus”), this Court vide order, dated 20-03-2020, had admitted those prisoners to bail who were alleged to have been involved in offences falling under the non-prohibitory clause. According to the written report submitted by the Deputy Commissioner, Islamabad Capital Territory, two hundred and eighty three such prisoners have been released,” said the IHC bench.

It added that in the petitions in hand, the petitioners are alleged to be involved in offences falling within the ambit of the prohibitory clause. It further said that a prison outbreak is likely to present potentially deadly risk not only to its inmates but the general public as well. The appalling conditions and health facilities would definitely exacerbate such a crisis.

According to the IHC bench verdict, “In view of the above and having regard to the policy of the Federal Government and other factors such as the intolerable living conditions in the overcrowded Central Prison, Rawalpindi, the gravity of risk posed by the novel Covid-19, safety concerns of the prisoners and their right to life, the petitions listed in “Annexure-A” hereto are allowed and consequently all the petitioners are admitted to bail. However, their release shall be subject to the following conditions.”

In this regard, Justice Athar directed, “The Director General, Anti-Narcotics Force shall constitute a committee of officials to scrutinise the cases and release in each case will be subject to the satisfaction of the said Committee. The Committee shall satisfy itself that sufficient security/surety can be furnished by the prisoner so that there is no apprehension of abscondance or that there are no other compelling reasons for denying the release.”

He maintained, “If the Committee is not satisfied that the prisoner should be released on bail then it shall record its reasons. Subject to satisfaction of the aforementioned Committee, the prisoner shall be released after proper screening by officials already nominated.”

The IHC Chief Justice continued that the Committee is expected to ensure that unnecessary and unreasonable restrictions are not imposed while releasing under-trial prisoners who are more than fifty five years old or are women and juveniles.

The court expected that the exercise pursuant to this order shall be completed at the earliest, preferably within three days.

He added that this order shall also cover those cases in which bail may have been refused earlier because prevention of outbreak of the novel virus and its potential spread in prisons is definitely a fresh ground.

Similarly, the court directed the Chief Commissioner and the Inspector General of Police Islamabad Capital Territory shall constitute a joint committee to scrutinise each case and release in each case will be subject to the satisfaction of the said Committee.

The bench noted, “The Committee shall satisfy itself that the prisoner, if released, will not be a threat to public safety.” It added, “If the Committee is satisfied that release of a prisoner admitted to bail is not in public interest then it shall record its reasons.”

Justice Athar said in the verdict, “This Court records its appreciation for the efforts made by the Deputy Commissioner, Islamabad Capital Territory, the Deputy Inspector General of Police and all the officials who assisted them in making the release of under trial prisoners possible pursuant to order, dated 20-03- 2020. This Court salutes the valour, commitment and heroic role of the medical practitioners and para medics in taking care of the prisoners incarcerated in the Central Prison, Rawalpindi in particular.”

He added, “In these challenging times the most vulnerable and defenseless classes of the society deserve special care and attention. Needless to say, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. This Court has faith and confidence in the resilience of this nation and expects that every citizen will act responsibly so that lives can be saved and the invisible enemy in the form of the novel virus is defeated.”