ISLAMABAD - Former interior minister Rehman Malik Thursday called upon the government to protect the rights of Pakistanis jailed abroad.

A delegation of Justice Project Pakistan, led by Barrister Sarah Belal, met Senator Malik and discussed matters related to Pakistani prisoners imprisoned in Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and other countries.

The meeting was also attended by Malaika Raza of Pakistan People’s Party. The JPP delegation, on behalf of the family members of overseas prisoners, appealed to Senator Malik to raise the issue of Pakistani nationals imprisoned in different countries with the government of Pakistan as they are passing through the most vulnerable situation, facing harshest punishments and lacking legal assistance. JPP Executive Director Sarah Belal briefed Senator Malik, the Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Interior, that there were currently 189 Pakistani nationals in Iranian Jails – many of them sentenced for drug offences.

She added that on October 25, 2017, the Guardian Council of Islamic Republic of Iran approved a bill easing the application of death penalty in certain cases.

As a result of this amendment, Pakistani citizens imprisoned on Iranian Death Row are now entitled to commutation of their death sentences. Senator Malik commended the Iranian Government’s efforts for easing their drug laws and providing relief to those who have been sentenced under previous standards.

He vowed to take up the issue of “Pakistani missions not providing legal aid to overseas Pakistani Prisoners, according to international standards and the laws of the host countries” with the government.

Criticising the previous and the incumbent governments for their lack of support for Pakistanis abroad, Senator Malik said: “Our government initiated a prisoner transfer agreement with Iran but the subsequent governments failed to build upon it.”

He added: “Pakistani Embassies and missions must abide by their primary responsibility to provide consular services to all those who have been imprisoned and detained in foreign jails.”

He urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to instruct all Pakistani embassies to provide complete category-wise data of Pakistani prisoners abroad, including the nature of their offences and their sentences. Senator Malik also appreciated barrister Belal for her role in bringing back 40 Pakistani nationals back to the country from Bagram by providing them with the necessary legal assistance.

There are currently 9360 Pakistanis imprisoned in other countries. Without access to lawyers, consular assistance and impartial translators, the fates of these Pakistanis are at the mercy of local courts. These destitute Pakistanis have also been failed by the Pakistani missions abroad.

Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Interior while taking the notice of the issue directed the Ministry of Interior to submit a comprehensive report to the committee about Pakistani nationals imprisoned in different countries particularly Iran, KSA and UEA.

Meanwhile, PPP leader Farhatullah Babar said the Financial Action Task Force requirements to choke finances of banned organisations had opened door for state to further strangulate civil society organisations instead of curbing activities of banned outfits under charity labels.

Speaking at a seminar on FATF in the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services, he said during its recent visit the FATF delegation found Pakistan deficient in four areas namely supervision of anti money laundering law, illicit cross-border movement of currency, poor investigation and prosecution and non implementation of UNSC resolutions 1267.

Despite parliament enacting the law the state had not moved to ban proscribed outfits from reappearing, he maintained.

Babar said that it at all it was necessary to regulate NGOs it should be done through legislation instead of an arbitrary one liner executive order saying that state agencies had rejected their request.

I A Rehman Secretary General Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, justice Chowhan chairman National Commission for Human Rights, Zafarullah khan Executive Director PIPS, Romona Khurshid Alam, Senator Saif and M Iqbal Director General National Counter Terrorism Authority also addressed the seminar.