We are outraged to learn about the execution of Pakistani national Fatima Ijaz in Saudi Arabia, the first Pakistani woman to be executed in the Kingdom since 2014. She was incarcerated in Dhaban prison of Jeddah on drug-related charges.
Two other Pakistanis including Fatima’s husband Muhammad Mustafa and Abdul Maalik were also executed by the Saudi authorities on Thursday, despite the fact that the two nations are currently negotiating a prisoner transfer agreement. These executions are particularly worrying in the face of the announcement by the Saudi Crown Prince made in February this year to release 2,107 Pakistanis imprisoned in the Kingdom. The promise, however, has yet to be fulfilled. Reportedly, only 250 Pakistani prisoners have returned so far, whose cases were already under consideration for repatriation. On the contrary, there has been a sharp rise in executions of Pakistani nationals following the announcement.
Once again, the Government of Pakistan has failed to safeguard the rights and the lives of its most vulnerable citizens abroad, particularly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Low-paid labourers are often entrapped by rogue Overseas Employment Promoters (OEPs) and forced to transport drugs on Saudi bound flights. They are completely abandoned by their government once they are arrested. Despite assurances from the prime minister and government officials, there has been little systematic effort to engage diplomatically with the Saudi government to halt the execution of these prisoners, to seek their pardon or to bring them back.
Saudi Arabia has executed more than 100 Pakistanis in the past five years. Despite being a close regional ally, the Kingdom executes more Pakistanis than any other foreign nationality, with 20 executions in 2014, 22 in 2015, 7 in 2016, 17 in 2017, 30 in 2018 and 14 this year so far. More Pakistanis are imprisoned in Saudi Arabia than any other country in the world, with the total exceeding 3,300 Pakistanis.
Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi Arabia are at the mercy of local courts without access to lawyers, impartial translators, or consular assistance from the Pakistani diplomatic missions. These destitute Pakistanis face the harshest punishments due to their lack of understanding of and assistance with the legal process, incapability to communicate directly with the court, and inability to produce evidence from Pakistan in their defense.
In most instances, the families of death row prisoners are not notified prior to their execution, depriving family members and loved ones the chance of a final goodbye. The bodies of those executed are also not returned — which is a gross violation of all legal and moral protocols, and Islamic injunctions.
At a time when effective steps are being taken around the world to end the use of this cruel and inhumane punishment, Saudi Arabia is among the top three executioners in the world.According to a report released by Amnesty International, the Saudi government executed 149 prisoners last year. Hundreds of others await the same fate on death row under dismal prison conditions. 48.5% of people executed between January 1985 and June 2015 — 1,072 people — were foreign nationals, who make up around 33% of Saudi Arabia’s population of approximately 30 million.
Sarah Belal, Executive Director Justice Project Pakistan says: “It is extremely disheartening to know that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has executed its first female Pakistani prisoner in five years. Fatima’s beheading is a gross failure of the Pakistani mission to do its constitutional duty. Abandoned by their government, Pakistanis on death row in KSA are subject to widespread and systemic due process violations, and the harshest sentences. The government of Pakistan must utilize all diplomatic channels to compel the Saudi government to halt the executions of Pakistanis facing the harshest punishment.”
Justice Project Pakistan is a non-profit organization based in Lahore that represents the most vulnerable Pakistani prisoners facing the harshest punishments, at home and abroad. JPP investigates, litigates, educates, and advocates on their behalf.