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Inhumane conditions in Pakistan prisons fuel Covid-19 cases

Inhumane conditions in Pakistan prisons fuel Covid-19 cases

Human rights organization Amnesty International has raised serious concerns about the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Pakistan's prisons.

After the first case of coronavirus was reported in Camp Jail, Lahore, on March 20, it is believed that hundreds of prisoners across Pakistan have contracted the virus.

A majority of them, close to 100, are in Lahore, followed by Dera Gazi Khan, Gujranwala, Jhelum, Bhakkar, Hafizabad, Kasur and Faisalabad. There are as many as 77,000 individuals lodged in Pakistan's prisons currently.

That the Pakistani authorities are hiding the number of actual positive cases detected in prisons is a growing cause for concern. "The number was dropped to 86 infected prisoners, without any explanation on April 26. There has been no reporting of the number of Covid-19 cases in prisons ever since, nor have authorities disclosed any fatalities that may have resulted or the number of prisoners who recovered," the Amnesty report said.

Experts believe that given the extremely contagious nature of the disease and massive overcrowding, it is highly likely that more prisoners have contracted the virus than what the official figures suggest.

No information about the number of tests in Pakistani prisons has been made public, save for the 512 tests that were conducted in Camp Jail, Lahore.

"As tempting as it is to believe that the virus has been contained so effectively in prisons across Pakistan, unfortunately, we believe the reality shows a different picture. Given the likelihood that there is a significant number of undiagnosed and unreported cases, it is cause for serious concern if authorities have halted testing or are failing to disclose the number of cases in prisons,” said Rimmel Mohydin, South Asia campaigner at Amnesty International.

In March 2020, the provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab announced measures such as early release and testing in prisons. The Islamabad High Court also issued directives to immediately release vulnerable and pre-trial or remand detainees.

However, on March 30, the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended all orders granting bail.

The conditions in Pakistan’s prisons—which are often overcrowded, unsanitary and under resourced—serve to increase the chances of a Covid-19 outbreak, making access to testing even more urgent.

"While testing has been a challenge for many countries, it is critical to ensure that healthcare is just as available to prisoners as it would be to the community at large—including in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of Covid-19. If prison populations cannot be reduced, then authorities must ensure that the necessary measures are in place to protect them," said Mohydin..