Pakistani drug mules await execution in Saudi

Of the 75 people that Saudi Arabia has executed in 2014, 15 of them were Pakistanis convicted of drug smuggling.

SARGODHA, PAKISTAN // Every morning, Haji Abdul Haq wakes up wondering whether his son has been beheaded.

Not by the Taliban, Al Qaeda or ISIL, but by the Saudi Arabian government.

Mr Haq’s son is on death row in the kingdom, waiting for his name to be added to the growing roll of Pakistanis executed this year by the Saudis for heroin smuggling.

Saudi Arabia has meted out the fate to 75 people in 2014, 15 of them Pakistanis convicted of drug smuggling.

Families and human-rights campaigners complain their trials are opaque and unfair, and accuse the Pakistani government of doing nothing to help its citizens, afraid of offending an important ally.

Mr Haq’s son Mohammad Irfan, 27, awaits his death in Al Hair prison, thousands of miles from the orange groves and wheatfields of his native Punjab, where his father told his story.

Four years ago, two men came and said that for US$2,000 (Dh7,340) they would get Irfan plane tickets and a visa for the Gulf.

Irfan sold his rickshaw and wife’s jewels and his tea-seller father made up the rest of the money.

The two men then took Irfan to Karachi, a key transit point for heroin from Afghanistan. But in Karachi, things turned sour, Mr Haq says.

“The two men changed and told him they would kill him unless he did what they wanted,” Mr Haq said.

“After that they forced capsules of heroin into his anus.”

Irfan was put on a flight to Saudi Arabia. On arrival in Riyadh he was stopped by customs officers and after a brisk trial, condemned to death.

Pakistan is full of stories about drug mules, but they are little discussed in public and get little sympathy.

One Pakistani official said that “in most of the cases the sentence or the punishment is justified”.

Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia uses the death penalty disproportionately against foreigners, particularly those from South Asia. Since 1985 around half of 2,000 people executed in the kingdom have been foreigners.

The Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a human-rights law firm, has begun trying to get Islamabad to defend them.

“These prisoners are very poor men who have been sold a chance to escape and make something of their lives,” Sohail Yafat, a JPP investigator, said.

Almost half of Afghanistan’s heroin production comes through Pakistan on its way to Europe and Asia.

But in recent years the Gulf has become an increasingly important market, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Seizures of the drug in Saudi Arabia have exploded, from just one kilogram a year in the early 2000s to 41 kilograms in 2008 and 111 in 2011, according to data given by the Saudis to the UN.

In August and September alone, nearly 400 people, including nearly 300 foreigners, were arrested for possessing or dealing heroin.

The prisoners and their families also criticise the Pakistani government for sacrificing its own citizens for the sake of good foreign relations.

Saudi Arabia supplies oil and financial aid to Pakistan, the only Islamic state with nuclear weapons, while Pakistan helps with military assistance, according to analysts.

“In the perspective of the government, the relations with Saudi Arabia are too important, too critical, to be sacrificed for individuals who, in the mind of the state, are responsible” for their acts, said Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.

Haji Abdul Haq has written to numerous Pakistani officials including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, urging them to lobby the Saudis on behalf of his son.

“The drugs mafia, it’s like a tree -- the Saudis are cutting the branches but the trunk and the roots are still there,” said Haq, sitting with Irfan’s two daughters. One of the girls has never seen her father.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: December 4, 2014 04:00 AM

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