South Asia

Outcry Erupts Over Inhumane Death of University Official in Lahore Jail

Mian Javed Ahmed was arrested in October over allegations of establishing illegal campuses and minting millions through students.

Lahore: In a shocking development on Friday, the former chief executive officer (CEO) of University of Sargodha’s Lahore campus, Mian Javed Ahmed, died under judicial remand in Camp Jail. The doctors termed it a cardiac arrest. Ahmed was in jail in connection with a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) inquiry.

While jail authorities claim that when Ahmed complained of a pain in his chest he was instantly taken to the hospital, the family of the deceased maintain that he was not provided medical care on time. NAB itself has also distanced itself from the death clarifying that the accused had been handed over to the jail and was not in their custody anymore.

Rejecting media reports a NAB officer reiterated the bureau’s official statement saying they had no role in Ahmed’s death, and added that Mian Javed, on court orders, had been sent to jail in a healthy state almost two months ago.

In a press release taken out by its Islamabad branch, NAB said that his death took place at Services Hospital Lahore under jail custody as he was under trial.

Based on the information provided by Shahid Saleem Baig, Punjab Inspector General (Prisons), Ahmed breathed his last at Services Hospital and he could not be provided medical aid. He said that the doctors had specified the 45-year-old had died of “severe cardiac arrest”.

However the Services Hospital said the man was dead on arrival.

 Violation of human rights

As a reaction to a picture of Ahmed’s body – still wearing handcuffs even after death, there was an outcry among politicians and civil society.

“Professor Javed, CEO Sargodha University Campus in Lahore suffered a heart attack in the custody of National Accountability Bureau. This pic of a dead body in chains is shocking. Earlier, former VC Punjab University was paraded in handcuffs. Ultimate violation of human dignity.

“Shame on NAB,” said editor of Daily Times, Raza Rumi, on Twitter.

Journalist Murtaza Solangi also tweeted: “The death of Sargodha Vice Chancellor in NAB custody will haunt the organization built under a terrible law by the military dictator as well as its chairman. Include entire Imran Khan administration into it.”

“This is shocking even in times when no excess is left to shock. Am ashamed and disgusted,” tweeted Former PPP-P senator Sherry Rehman.

The liberal, progressive spheres and even those on the right wereall critical of the way the official’s body was treated after he had died.

“The innocence or guilt of those taken into custody by state institutions such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) needs to be established under the law – and with strict and transparent regard for due process,” said Dr Mehdi Hasan, chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

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Students’ and teachers are agitated too.

The Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association and the Punjab Teachers Union have both severely condemned the treatment being meted out to teachers because of these ongoing corruption investigations by agencies and jail authorities.

“If the government cannot ensure respect for teachers, it should at least make sure there is no humiliation of a dead body,” said representatives.

Meanwhile the senate’s standing committee for Human Rights Chairperson Mustafa Nawaz took notice of the official’s death and summoned the NAB director general and the IG Prisons Punjab in person at the committee’s next meeting.

“A person’s death in custody, is a very serious matter,” said the chairman, ordering the health records and other information of the deceased. “Clearly there is differential treatment of everyone under the law targeting just a select few – what kind of accountability is this that only students or politicians are being held accountable?” he questioned.

On Friday night, Punjab chief minister Sardar Usman Buzdar took notice of the incident and also sought a report from the IG prisons. He also inquired why Ahmed’s handcuffs had not been removed.

Then after a series of protests by students in Lahore, the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar also took a suo moto cognisance of the matter and directed NAB to investigate the matter.

‘Hyper-accountability’

There has been a ruffling of feathers ever since NAB has begun opening cases one after the other. Most of those accused or interrogated belong to, or are supported by, the opposition parties PML-N and PPP-P. From Sharif brothers, and their close aides, such as Saad Rafique, his brother Salman Rafique, to Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto, the Bureau is toughening its stance and making use of its existence.

“This kind of ‘hyper-accountability’ that is happening – especially when accompanied by the sort of social signals given out by the image of a body in handcuffs – will not make for a more honest society,” says Dr Mehdi Hasan. Dr Hasan also refers to an earlier scene of a university professor being brought to court in chains.

“It is just ironic that although there are cases against certain people in the ruling party, NAB has not made any arrests,” says a Lahore based PML-N member. “PTI minister Abdul Aleem Khan has several cases of land grabbing, but he has never been arrested.”

Ahmed was arrested in October over allegations of establishing illegal campuses and minting millions through students.

On Thursday, in the ongoing illegal campuses case, NAB had obtained an extension in the judicial remand until January 2 for Ahmed along with four others from the education sector arrested in the same case.

The suspects had allegedly made millions by opening illegal campuses in Lahore and Mandi Bahauddin.

NAB alleged that hundreds of students who studied at the illegal campuses of the university were charged millions of rupees. However, not only were their examinations not conducted, but they were never issued degrees either. The affected students have time and again staged protests against the university administration but to no avail.

‘A problem in all jails’

But while everyone is condemning the fact that the prisoner was handcuffed, jail officials say that it is normal if the prisoner is taken for any matter outside the jail, to have his hands cuffed.

“If he were to have any medical procedure done then we would have opened the cuffs,” said a top official. The picture was taken right after his death.

It is also not just a matter of merely hand cuffs.

Apparently there is no medical service as such in jails.

Former inmate Sohail Yafat reveals that a regular over-the-counter pain killer is often given to someone who complains of any problem.

“Even if you are having chest pain they will give you that same pain killer,” he says. “Then again, by the time the custody van is arranged (the jail is short on vehicles too along with many other basic needs), the prisoner has already died.”

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Yafat has spent 10 years in Sahiwal jail, one of the worst prisons in Punjab.

However, when interviewed the now former IG prisons Punjab, Farooq Nazeer had said that they had provided state of the art medical equipment so that they would not even have to travel to outside hospitals.

“If anything this is the issue,” says a human rights defender. “Ahmed had been complaining of chest pain since morning but they took too much time in taking him to the hospital.”

Yafat says that this kind of mistreatment is a norm inside the jail.