In the course of my investigations, I once travelled to Bhalwal, where I met the family of a man named Boota. Stuck in the vicious circle of loans that ensnare bonded labourers, this man had sold his kidney to try and break free. Unfortunately, even that money was not enough to get his family released from the land lords he owed money to. A few years after selling his kidney, Boota met a man who told him to go to Saudi Arabia, and offered help in securing employment there. He added that working in the Kingdom also included the allure of being able to perform Umrah. Boota, a religious man, was very tempted and so agreed to the offer. He came to think of his agents as his benefactors. When they asked him to carry a packet of medicines for someone who lived there, Boota did not question them. He didn’t know the medicine was, in fact, heroin. And so this uneducated poor labourer, unaware of his deadly cargo, flew to Saudi Arabia, where he was promptly caught and sentenced to death. To his executioners, Boota was a dangerous drug smuggler. To me, he was an unfortunate victim of trafficking. For his family, he was the patriarch who tried to save his loved ones from a lifetime of bonded slavery. Perhaps if Boota had been able to present his story before the judge, he would have been shown leniency. But he never got the chance to do so. His embassy abandoned him, he had no counsel who could try to get him a fair trial and without a translator, there was no hope of appealing to the judge’s humanity. It is astounding for me that the State of Pakistan has never considered the plight of those of its citizens who are rotting away in foreign jails or waiting to be executed. Demonizing them as criminals is excuse enough for the government to look away and not do its job. I hope the new PTI government will be ready to provide justice to these forgotten members of our society. Maybe the Prime Minister, who has said that ‘Overseas Pakistanis are an asset’ will be the one who realize that being in a foreign jail does not mean one stops being a Pakistani Drug mules are often picked from areas with low literacy rates and high poverty. Most of these folks are jobless, or as was the case with Boota, trying to repay loans. From Khushab to Mardan, and indeed all over Pakistan, small towns are littered with such sorry tales. Their stories of poverty and desperation have all the hallmarks of a Greek tragedy, but in this case, the audience i.e. the government, has never shown empathy. Compare Pakistan’s official negligence with how other countries react when one of its citizens is put to death. When an Indonesian maid was beheaded, Indonesia officially protested with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister. The Indonesians also once paid blood money and got one of their citizens back home. The Philippines embassy has often hired lawyers at its own expense to plead the case of their citizens. In 2013, the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa made two personal appeals to the Kingdom to grant a pardon to Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan sentenced to death in 2007. Many ex prisoners tell me that Pakistani prisoners are at the receiving end of mockery from prisoners of other nationalities. Few have been forsaken so completely by the land of their birth as our compatriots. If the job of breaking the news of execution falls on the government, it might rethink its position. I once offered my condolences to the brother of a man who had been executed, and I have never found myself more at a loss for words. Deprived of the moral courage to offer anything but a few token words, I dejectedly made my way out of the anguish in that house. At another executed man’s house in Sargodha, I met his mother who refused to accept that her son was dead. She had not been notified by officials, had not seen his corpse, had no proof of his demise except a call from another inmate. It is a travesty that the government can end her agony and those of others in her position, but chooses not to. All that is needed is the decency to send an official notification to the bereaved family. I have been told of female prisoners whose children are kept in separate quarters but are unable to come home to their families. I have seen returning ex-prisoners suffering from depression and stress related illnesses. I have talked to inmates who tell stories of ill treatment and endless waiting. I have conversed with the condemned who are not even told when their lives will be sniffed out. What I have not been told of is a government that wants to draft a Counsellor Protection Policy to safeguard its citizens. What I have not seen are legislators willing to work on bills that can secure the lives of its labour force. What I have not talked to is a legal system eager to tackle the mafias that exploit the poor. I hope the new Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government will be ready to provide justice to these forgotten members of our society. Maybe the Prime Minister, who has said that ‘Overseas Pakistanis are an asset’ will be the one who realize that being in a foreign jail does not mean one stops being a Pakistani. The author is a prison rights activist and is working to defend the rights of Pakistanis who are imprisoned abroad Published in Daily Times, December 20th2018.