- Its custody will prove a nest of coronavirus infection
In line with what is happening in the rest of the world, the Islamabad High Court last Tuesday ordered the release of 408 prisoners, specifying that they should not pose a threat to society. On the other hand, NAB started a fresh investigation against ex-PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, showing that the government is unwilling to scale back its so-called pursuit of accountability in the worst crisis that has struck the country and is rather ramping up its high-handed, one-sided campaign against corruption, which has so far brought in only political opponents, only to expose these opponents to the risk of coronavirus infection.
So far, NAB has been singularly unsuccessful in its efforts, as most of those against whom cases have been brought have been granted bail by the superior courts, because it was unable to furnish evidence that would justify detention. The sort of media circus NAB organizes after making a high-profile arrest is humiliating enough for the person arrested, but it has now become a public health hazard too, and makes nonsense of the Prime Minister’s calls for self-isolation. That is also the case with appearances before NAB of in-custody prisoners, who are brought cheek-by-jowl with a police party in an unsanitised prison van. All that is left is for NAB to round up a few coronavirus carriers, and seat them next to its prisoners.
NAB’s fear that such prisoners will run away has not been justified by experience, but now that flights abroad have been suspended, there is no fear of anyone fleeing the country. The ECL has lost its meaning, having become universal, as the government itself has tried to seal off the country. NAB should realize that the law enforcing agency holding a prisoner is held responsible for his or her welfare. That includes the health of the prisoner. NAB should also realize that the superior courts take a dim view of any threats to his or her health. As IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah observed in the recent case, “In this situation, prisoners cannot be kept in isolation. Prisoners have the right to survive too.” After all, corruption does not carry a death sentence, whatever accountability enthusiasts might think.