The Great Escape

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It is mere days since two high-profile prisoners who were members of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi organisation shaved off their beards in a court washroom and thus transformed proceeded to walk out of the front gate of Karachi Central Jail. They have disappeared into thin air. It was one of the most brazen escapes of recent times and remarkable for its simplicity — no months of tunnelling, no armed men helping them. Just some shaving soap, a couple of razors and some very cooperative and sympathetic prison staff. Subsequently 12 police personnel, including the jail superintendant and the deputy superintendant, were arrested on the orders of the Sindh law minister and the prison minister.

The incident aroused suspicions and concerns, and on the night of Sunday 18th and Monday 19th June Rangers and Frontier Corps personnel conducted a rummage search of the jail concentrating on areas where members of banned organisations were housed.

Escaped LeJ militants walked out of central jail

What they found was an Aladdin’s cave of items that should never be in the hands of prisoners whether awaiting trial or convicted. Hundreds of mobile phones, air coolers, UPS systems and voltage regulators, DVD players and LED TVs, knives and assorted cutters, freezers and stoves — the list goes on. None of the items could have entered the prison without the active participation of prison staff and the police. It is indicative of massive and unchecked corruption at every level of the jail, and renders the prison system effectively worthless in terms of detaining those deemed to be a danger to society at large.

This did not happen overnight. Neither is it conceivable that it was entirely unknown to all but a select few. The entire prison staff at every level must have been aware of what was going on and were either unwilling or unable to prevent it. Powerful men who were members of banned organisations were able to flout the prison regulations with complete impunity and escape the constraints that the prison was supposed to provide. There is no subtle remedy for this. The entire prison needs to be emptied in the short term and all prison staff removed. Draconian this may be but ruthless solutions must come into play. No special pleading — go in hard and make prison meaningful.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2017.

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