Lahore - Home Department and jail officials have termed the last Thursday’s visit of Punjab Minister for Prisons Zawar Hussain to Kot Lakhpat Jail and unlocking the high-security barracks illegal and in violation of criminal justice system.

The minister and the jail superintendent have defended their acts. In a report submitted to the Punjab chief minister, the prison minister observed that the mobile service when he visited the jail premises was working which should remain suspended for 24 hours. The prisoners were allegedly bribing the superintendent and others to get benefits. He also pointed out that common prisoners were accommodated in the high-security cells.

However, a report from the jail officials said that the minister met prisoners belonging to banned outfits. He not only visited in odd hours without any prior permission from the Home Department but also unlocked high-security cells wherein terrorists reside, and it was a severe violation of Pakistan Prison Rules 1978, it says. It adds that the minister not only snatched keys from the official on duty but also blocked the jail police to enter the high-security cells during his visit.

The minister’s meeting with the under-trial militants of the banned outfits involved in suicide attacks in Lahore was also a severe violation of the criminal justice system, it adds.

IG Prisons Mirza Shahid Saleem Baig brought the matter to the knowledge of the home secretary who ordered an investigation into the matter. While quoting rules, the superintendent stated that only Darban of the porch could keep the keys of the main gate while the minister snatched them from him. He said that the minister breached the high security of the jail.

A former home secretary said that only a district & sessions judge or deputy commissioner concerned or any official deputed by the Home Department or the IGP could visit the jails. The minister may visit the jail in day timing otherwise when the jail is locked he could get permission from the Home Department in writing, he asserted.

In the case in question, he said, it seemed that the minister had barged into the jail violating the jail protocols. However, he said, the inquiry into the issue would further clear things. Mentioning Sialkot Jail tragic incident, the former home secretary said that the minister’s visit without security could have resulted in some untoward incident.

Another Home Department official termed the minister’s visit to the high-profile prisoners a security risk. He said that unlocking of the barracks keeping 109 terrorists was in sheer violation of the prison rules as there are 3,700 convicts and other inmates in the jail. Moreover, 70 sectarian prisoners and those convicted by army courts, 300 death row, 45 foreigners and 2,200 other dangerous inmates imprisoned there, he said.

Superintendent Asghar further stated that the minister violated jail manual as he along with his team entered the jail with cell phones. During the minister’s visit at night and the opening of high-security cell and other such targets were done without ensuring any security cover. The jail officer complained to the authorities that he was not allowed to perform his duties according to the rules and his entire staff was demoralised.

A close aide of the prisons minister on anonymity termed the jail superintendent’s letter to authorities as a continuation of the letters of DCs of Chakwal and DG Khan.

He said in the wake of the sad incidents the home ministry would request to CM Sardar Usman Buzdar to transfer the officers close to the former regime including IG Prisons Mirza Shahid Saleem Baig and his team. He said that even during the interim government they could not be transferred and the PTI government would do it after Adiala Jail and Kotlakh Pat Jail incidents. The Punjab Information minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan could not be reached on his cell phone.