Urgent Action Update: Prisoners Across Pakistan at Risk of COVID-19 (Pakistan: UA 39.20)
An inmate at Camp Jail, with a prison population of 3,500 people, in the provincial capital Lahore tested positive for coronavirus before being transferred to a medical facility. However, even as provincial high courts issued directives to release vulnerable, under-trial and elderly prisoners, the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended all bail orders. Prisons in Pakistan face massive overcrowding (jails in Pakistan have a capacity of 57,742 but currently house 77,275 inmates), with limited hygiene supplies and insufficient access to healthcare. Forcing inmates to practice social distancing would be impossible, given the overcrowding, drastically increasing the potential for the virus to spread. Pakistani authorities must protect the health of all prisoners and should urgently consider measures to reduce the prison population. Should the government fail to act now, Pakistani prisons and detention centers could become hotspots for the transmission of coronavirus.