Lahore High Court orders Pakistan Government to challenge the US over the illegal detention of Pakistanis in Bagram

The Lahore High Court on Wednesday 21st March ordered Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to immediately write to the government of the United States demanding details about seven  Pakistani nationals currently detained in Afghanistan at Bagram Airbase, including the reasons for their arrest and the legal charges levelled against them.

The order was in response to an onging legal challenge brought by by Reprieve’s partner Justice Project Pakistan’s (JPP) on behalf of the families of seven Pakistani prisoners.

Speaking from the bench, Justice Khalid Mahmood Khan stated that the men were picked up in Pakistan and illegally rendered to Bagram as innocent victims of the “war on terror”.The Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted that since the court’s last order of February 15 2012 a committee had been formed and diplomatic channels had been opened.However, Justice Khan noted that the report filed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs showed that the diplomatic negotiations were cursory at best. Justice Khan referred to the UK case of the Pakistani detainee in which the UK High Court ordered the Americans to hand him back to the UK. Yunus Rahmatullah is one of the Pakistanis represented in the petition pending before Justice Khan.

Justice Khalid Mahmood Khan directed the Government of Pakistan to immediately draft a letter to the Government of the United States demanding information about Pakistani citizens detained in Bagram. He also stated that he would consider no action to have been taken until such letter was sent to the United States.

Justice Project Pakistan’s (JPP) lead counsel, Barrister Sarah Belal, submitted in court that under the new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the US and Afghan governments published on March 9 2012, the United States had pledged to hand over all detention facilities in Afghanistan to Afghan authorities within six months. She noted that the MoU made no mention of third country nationals being held at US detention facilities. Consequently, the future of any Pakistani at Bagram is uncertain at best and they might well disappear if no action is taken by the Pakistani government within the next six months. Alternatively, the Pakistani detainees are transferred to Afghan custody where, according to a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, torture is widespread.

The ruling is the latest in a case brought before the Lahore High Court by JPP. The petition concerns seven Pakistanis detained without charge at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan.

Commenting on Wednesday’s hearing, Barrister Sarah Belal, lead lawyer at Justice Project Pakistan, said:

We are now racing against a 6-month clock to get our Pakistani nationals back home. Failure to do so will result in their disappearance and mostly likely, horrendous torture.

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) is a Lahore-based non-profit law firm that defends the poorest prisoners facing the harshest punishment. It was established in January 2010, representing the most vulnerable prisoners in the criminal justice system, namely poor people facing the death penalty or those held beyond the rule of law in secret prisons as part of the ‘war on terror’.

They provide direct legal representation on a pro bono basis, which includes litigation, investigation and case management. They also initiate strategic or impact litigation in Pakistan, where they bring forth test cases designed to address a piece of legislation that is either faulty in its execution or implementation that is intended to identify and redress the lapses in the criminal justice system, particularly where it is related to fair trial issues and torture.

In an effort to create awareness in the field of capital defence, JPP also assists national and international teams of litigators in conducting seminars and workshops on an annual basis to promote best legal practices adopted worldwide.

About the Bagram Seven

The Bagram Seven are seven Pakistani prisoners being unlawfully detailed at the Bagram Prison in Afghanistan – Awal Noor, Hamidullah Khan, Abdul Haleem Saifullah, Faizal Karim, Amal Khan, Yunus Rahmatullah and Iftikhaar Ahmed. All seven are Pakistani citizens who are being held indefinitely at Bagram without access to lawyers and without having been informed of the evidence against them. Some have been there for many years. Some have been abused. One prisoner is merely 16 years of age and was seized two years ago at the age of 14. Another was not permitted to speak to his family for six years, and is believed to be in a grievous physical and psychological condition.

Originally used to process prisoners captured during Operation Enduring Freedom, Bagram Internment Facility has become backlogged with prisoners who are held for years without charge, trial or legal rights. Hamidullah Khan, for example, was picked up while travelling from Karachi to his father’s village in Waziristan to salvage the family’s possessions during the ongoing military operation. He was just fourteen. He is currently being held at Bagram and his family is desperate for his return.

Unlike detainees at Guantánamo, who can at least engage a legal team to represent them at a military hearing, prisoners at Bagram have no access to lawyers and thus are simply unable to challenge their detention.

The prisoners’ families have suffered severe emotional and economic hardship and are desperate to see their loved ones again. The father of Abdul Haleem Saifullah, upon learning that his son was in Bagram, became so sick with worry that he died one year later. Amal Khan’s mother breaks down each time she tries to speak to her son via the International Committee of the Red Cross. Awal Noor’s family, who relied on the income he earned repairing cars and then as a goat-herder, struggle to make ends meet.

In the last year, the Obama Administration has attempted to legitimise Bagram Prison, claiming that conditions and procedures there have been improved, and conceding that many prisoners are wrongfully held. This case tests the Obama Administration’s resolve and the Pakistani Government’s commitment to securing the rights of its citizens in illegal detention facilities abroad.

The prisoners’ families have asked the Lahore Court to secure the immediate release of their loved ones, and to bring criminal charges against the Pakistani Government for violations of Pakistani and international law. On 21 January 2012, the judge issued a detailed order directing the Pakistani government to initiate negotiations with the US and Afghan governments for the repatriation of Pakistani detainees in Bagram.