Amnesty International and Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) shared concerns Tuesday on overcrowded Pakistani prisons amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The report specifically mentioned a prisoner that tested positive for COVID-19 after being arrested in Italy. Italy deported the prisoner to Pakistan, and Pakistan placed the prisoner among 3,500 uninfected inmates in a jail barracks. Authorities eventually transferred the prisoner to a medical facility but are uncertain of the other inmates’ exposure to the disease
Amnesty and the JPP included a holistic analysis of Pakistani prisons in their report. The groups reported that prisons in Pakistan currently operate 130 percent over capacity. These close quarters make social distancing virtually impossible and could exacerbate a prison-wide outbreak if a single prisoner contracts COVID-19. The two organizations additionally criticized the prisons for unsanitary conditions and for limiting access to healthcare. The prisons provide limited access to beds, sanitary products, medications and hygiene products. This combination of overcrowding, insufficient sanitation and limited healthcare create particular COVID-19 vulnerabilities for prison populations in Pakistan.
Sarah Belal, Executive Director of JPP, recommended that Pakistan reform its prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic to address these vulnerabilities:
This is perhaps the greatest health crisis of our time and it is the state’s duty to protect the most vulnerable. Due to the unprecedented rate at which the virus is spreading coupled with its high mortality rate, the Pakistani government must devise a coherent approach to protecting its prison population, currently at over 77,000 individuals. Should the government fail to act now, Pakistani prisons and detention centers will become epicenters for the transmission of COVID-19.
Amnesty and the JPP encourage all countries to reform prisons and explore early release options among COVID-19 fears. The organizations cite Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as the international authority for a human right to health. The Article 12 right to health includes “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases.”
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