LAHORE                  -           A prisoner cannot be deprived of his fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan, observed Honorable Chief Justice of Lahore High Court, Mamoon Rashid Sheikh, on Thursday.

Keeping in view the importance of the matter, the honorable court converted the petition into a public interest litigation. He also directed the Inspector General of Prisons, Punjab to submit the standard operating procedures (SOPs) followed by prison officials in order to secure the rights of condemned prisoners to meet their counsels and sign a power of attorney. The case was then adjourned till February 06, 2020.

The Honorable Chief Justice was hearing a petition filed by Justice Project Pakistan on behalf of the brother of a juvenile offender, Muhammad Sarfaraz, who was denied the right to meet his counsel and sign a power of attorney just five days before his scheduled execution. Muhammad Sarfaraz was executed later on May 10, 2016.

Representing the petitioner, Barrister Sarah Belal argued that Article 10A of the Constitution guarantees a prisoner’s right to meet his counsel and have a power of attorney signed and duly attested by the jail in order to pursue any relief for the enforcement of their  fundamental rights. This right is inviolable throughout the course of the prisoner’s imprisonment.

She further apprised the court that the number of days between an execution warrant and hanging in Punjab was reduced from between 14 and 21 days to between 3 and 8 days in 2014. After a warrant is issued, a prisoner is left to count the remaining days of his life. At such a time, every minute is crucial and any delay in their legal representation amounts to a gross violation of their fundamental rights.

Muhammad Sarfaraz was 17 years old when he was arrested in 1993. Five years later, he was later sentenced to death by District and Sessions Court, Gujjar Khan in 1998, prior to the promulgation of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, 2000.

His execution was scheduled to be carried out on March 22, 2016 after which his family was not allowed to get a PoA signed by the jail officials at Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi.

Sarah Belal, Executive Director Justice Project Pakistan, adds: “Denying a condemned prisoner his right to be represented by counsel, as he counts down the days to his execution, is a gross abuse of power by prison authorities.

The authorities must be clear that they cannot delay or disrupt these constitutional rights of condemned prisoners especially when an execution warrant has been issued.”