Swat: Release of prisoners from Swat interred in jails in other districts due to absence of a local jail in Swat often gets delayed when relatives are not able to reach in time to secure release and take prisoners back to hometowns, say court officials.

Even though the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has allocated more than Rs 700 million to build a new jail in Swat, delays in construction has led to prisoners from the district getting detained in faraway prisons. This creates a financial burden for families, police and legal officials who frequently travel considerable distances to carry out legal procedures.

The district jail in Swat was damaged by the devastating 2005 earthquake in Pakistan’s north. Since then, prisoners are shifted to a jail in Timeragara in the district of Dir Lower, and another Jail in Daggar in district Buner.

Court officials say release of prisoners from jails is often delayed due to late arrival of relatives, creating anxiety among inmates who expect to be released and extra expenditure for the jail authorities who have to keep them back. Judicial Assistant in Swat District Courts Sanaullah Khan said on the day of a prisoner’s release, relatives have to spend more than Rs 8000 to shift them to their hometowns

While the prisoners are held in jails in other districts, court hearings and trials are held in Swat. Families of prisoners in these jails and the police department have to cover the cost of bringing and taking back prison inmates every time there is a court hearing.

“When a court hearing is delayed, the Jail staff has to pay extra for food and accommodation of the prisoners [brought to Swat for trials],” said Khan. If hearings are held in districts where the prisoners are from, he said, it would be easy for the jail administration, relatives and prisoners, who often spend an extra day of their life in jail instead of being released.”

“We spend Rs 4000 to 5000 every time we go to meet our imprisoned relative,” said Nawab Ali, brother-in-law of prisoners Muhammad Mushtaq and Muhammad Ayub who are in Buner jail for the last 18 months.

Ali, who belongs to the Balogram village of Swat, told News Lens Pakistan that it is both a waste of resources and time to rent a taxi and travel for around four hours to reach the jail in Buner.

He said if the prisoners were interned in a local jail, it would take no more than Rs 200 maximum as fare and about 30 minutes of travel time.

Like the relatives, the district police also face problems in shifting inmates to nearby jails for court hearings. Absence of a local prison in Swat causes huge financial expenses on transportation and other official procedures to police and legal departments.

Swat police officials said that the department spent at least Rs 650,000 monthly on the transportation of the prisoners, carrying them to district courts and back to the jail.

“From Monday to Thursday,  five vehicles of police department travel four times to jails in in Dir Lower and Buner while on Friday and Saturday ten vehicles travel four times to these prisons which costs us Rs 650,000 per month,” said police officer Muhammad Ijaz Khan.

He said the Swat police department had spent close to Rs 1 billion on transportation of prisoners in the last 12 years.

The police also fear attacks on vans carrying prisoners while travelling back and forth to faraway jails, a concern that acquires greater immediacy when viewed against the backdrop of a brutal Taliban insurgency in Swat from 2007 to 2009. The region was cleared of militants after a military operation in 2009 that displaced 2 m people from the region.

Ijaz Khan said that there had been several attacks including those from terrorists on police vans in the past. “Police vans carrying prisoners were twice attacked by suicide bombers leaving policemen injured.”

Prisoners detained for life and those facing death sentence in high profile cases have to be shifted to a maximum security prison in Haripur, even further removed from those in Dir or Buner. Haripur is 332 kilometres from Swat, with more than 9 hours of travel time.

Hazrat Hussain, an official in the Swat District Police Office (DPO), told News Lens that bringing prisoners from Haripur jail for judicial processes to courts in Swat involved much preparation and expenditure. A police vehicle is used even to carry a single prisoner back and forth from the Haripur jail, said Hussain, which costs about Rs20, 000.

Politicans like Fazal Hakim, a member of the provincial assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkwa where Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is in power, blame former governments in the province for delaying construction of the proposed jail.

However Sher Shah Khan, a former MPA from the Awami National Party (ANP) that was in power in the province from 2008-2013, told News Lens that the ANP government had approved a vast tract of land in Akhund Kalay in Kabal, Swat, because it was not secure to build the jail at its old location.

“To build a jail equipped with modern facilities, the ANP government had moved to secure land but the present PTI government rejected the plan,” said Shah Khan.

Syed Rahim Shah, a jail assistant in Swat, said a major cause of delay in construction of the jail was that the provincial government didn’t contribute the 50 percent cost of reconstruction as per a proposal from the Earthquake Reconstruction Authority (ERA) soon after the 2005 earthquake.

Khalid Mehmood, Tehsil Councilor of Saidu Sharif in Swat, said that the site of old jail was unsuitable for reconstruction because it fell in a residential area. “For reasons of privacy and security, the jail should be built in a nonresidential area.”

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