Monday, December 10, 2007

A lawyer's ordeal

(Munir A Malik narrates a chilling account of his imprisonment and near-fatal illness caused by negligence)

By Beena Sarwar

"It was psychological torture to the worst degree," says Munir A Malik, former President Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), talking about his three-week ordeal in prison before he was belatedly taken to hospital with renal failure. "It can drive a person insane to be lying on a bed staring at the ceiling for 16 hours."

Malik was arrested on Nov 3 from his hotel room in Islamabad. His colleague Justice (retired) Tariq Mahmood (who also got ill in prison) was with him earlier. Both had just reached Islamabad when they heard about the emergency. Expecting the arrest, Malik waited in his hotel room with the door open. The police arrived at about 10.30pm and took him to Kohsar police station where he deposited his cell phone. He arrived at Adiala Jail at 3am, half an hour after Aitzaz Ahsan.

The following day the superintendent said Malik was being transferred "to a 'better class', by which he meant B Class. Aitzaz threatened to bang his head against the wall until it bled if they removed me. They left."

The superintendent was transferred, having apparently lost the trust of the agencies running the show. "The new Superintendent had a Taliban-style beard and no moustache," says Malik. "He is the man who was Yusuf Raza Gillani's, [PPP Leader] nemesis when he was in Jail. I was woken up at 2am and told he wanted to see me. We woke up Aitzaz. Hameed Gul (who was brought in with his son that day) offered to go with me, but I said no, Aitzaz is my leader. The superintendent said I was being transferred to Attock. Aitzaz again wanted to resist, but I refused. They would have taken me by force."

At around 3am, Malik was put in a police mobile along with Siddique-ul-Farooque, [PML Leader], who was being sent to Bahawalpur Jail -- via Attock! Farooq had to endure the bumpy four-hour long ride to Attock, plus many more hours to Bahawalpur in the south. It was bitterly cold. The prisoners did not have adequate clothing. They arrived at Attock at 6.30 am, where plainclothesmen took Malik through a side gate, and into a room.

"Inside was a mean-looking fellow, weighing about 200 pounds, with a shawl over his shoulders. He thumped his chest and said, 'You know who I am? I am the person against whom the first suo moto action was taken' [i.e. by Chief Justice of Pakistan]. He wanted to know where Hamid Khan (another former SCBA President) was -- he had said that if Musharraf's uniform would have to be peeled off if it was a 'second skin'."

Uniformed policemen searched Malik so thoroughly "that if they had been looking for a needle in a haystack they would have found it." He was glad he had removed his money from his socks and handed it in (it was deposited into his account). He was finger printed and photographed like a criminal. Plainclothesmen then took him to the old part of the jail to an area marked 'Maut-yafta qaidiyon ke liye' - for prisoners condemned to death. "There was no one else there. They opened a cell and pushed me in." The cell was bare, with a high ceiling and a concrete slab for a bed. Malik was provided a rough blanket, a rug and a pillow.

"At 8.30am, someone brought a bucket of tea and raw 'nan' (bread) which they offered through the bars. I refused it, saying I was on hunger strike -- that is something I learnt from Aitzaz, as a very effective means of protest in jail. I told them I was not a criminal; I was brought there under preventive detention, not charged with any offence."

Malik used his account to get another blanket and a pillow, but was still cold. However, the cold was easier to endure than the isolation. "It was difficult to pass the day. At 4pm they lock you in until breakfast. You can only lie on the mattress and stare at the ceiling. I listened to the trains and reconciled their timings with my watch. The first train went by at 6am. I had no newspapers, nothing. I started scratching on the wall to record the days, to retain my sanity and sense of time. On the second day, I was still on hunger strike."

The jail superintendent said Malik was not in solitary confinement, but there was no other accommodation. "I asked if I could have something to read, but for that, he said the orders would have to 'come from above'."

At around 6 pm on Nov 7, Malik's solitary confinement ended, although he was allowed no visitors until four days after -- close family and one legal counsel (he appointed Tanvir Paracha, a local advocate). He was taken to the new portion of the jail, 'Pehra number four', a quadrangle with sixteen cells, about 8x4 feet each, with a concrete 'bed' slab. Malik was put in Cell no. 6, "the 'qusuri' cell meant for prisoners who had violated a jail rule or. They would be shackled if they were considered dangerous."

Each cells could accommodate one person ("and even that was suffocating") but contained three to four prisoners each. They were sent elsewhere when Malik was brought in. Apparently the barrack was needed for lawyers and those resisting the emergency.

Seven other lawyers were brought in at around 3am from Multan, having been picked up from courts. Others came in and were released over the coming weeks. One lawyer came in from Sahiwal.

"He was among the 41 who were injured during a torch-lit procession during the lawyers' movement to restore the chief justice. The police threw acid at them. His face was still disfigured. The Sahiwal bar has given the greatest sacrifices. The police filed an anti-terrorism case against them. The lawyers filed a direct complaint against police brutality. The Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court froze their file to protect the police," alleges Malik.

Malik ended his hunger strike because the local PML-N representative, former MNA Sheikh Aftab sent breakfast for the prisoners. "He was very generous and sent food for all of us, even when at one point there were 26 of us (when PPP workers were arrested and brought in)."

The first four cells of the barracks were apparently reserved for Nawaz Sharif: carpeted, air-conditioned bedroom with mattress, kitchen with fridge, study with table, and a bathroom. The bedroom was the only place with an electric socket where an ECG machine could be plugged in when a doctor from Attock General Hospital came to check the prisoners after newspapers reported that Malik was unwell. "He checked all the prisoners, we got to lie on the mattress for 30 minutes." They were allowed in the open courtyard from 7.30am till 4pm, but it was difficult to pass the time after being locked in for the night. The cell was cold and uncomfortable. Malik would fall asleep around 10pm. The light bulb hanging from the ceiling stayed on 24 hours.

By Friday, Nov 9, Malik started getting ill. The jail doctor catered to 1,400 prisoners (the facility has a capacity of 340). The medicines prescribed were often not available in Attock, and someone had to go to Rawalpindi to purchase them. Malik's medication was frequently changed. It did not work, and he had to take sleeping pills at night.

"When I had visitors, I had to say I was fine. It was for them to judge from my body language. There was always someone from ISI standing behind me and I feared repercussions. By the next Friday (Nov 16) I could feel the fluid shifting from one side to the other in my stomach. Specialists from outside hospitals came to see me. They all said I should be transferred to hospital, but no one did anything." One specialist extracted water from Malik's stomach with a syringe. Contrary to the impression of his family and friends, he was never transferred to the jail hospital.

"By the third Friday (Nov 23) I was completely incoherent, unable to even get up." He doesn't remember much of the next couple of days, after being finally taken to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad. By then, he was near death. Doctors say it is a miracle he survived. He has undergone dialysis four times since then. He was transferred from PIMS to the Sindh Institute of Urology & Transplant in Karachi, on Nov 29.

He is still weak, but recovering and able to take a small daily walk. The doctors are still investigating whether any permanent damage has been inflicted on his kidneys. He still has trouble sleeping, as the tubes inserted for the dialysis procedure do not allow him to turn on his side.

Many imprisoned lawyers around the country were released after they signed undertakings promising not to take part in politics. However, Malik received no such offer. In any case, he says that he "would have died rather than sign such an undertaking".

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