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Migrants Face Beheading in Saudi's Spate of Executions

07/08/2015 09:28 BST | Updated 06/08/2016 10:59 BST

Much has been written recently of the spate of executions in Pakistan - more than 200 now, and counting - since the moratorium was lifted last December. While this spate of execution surely merits the international condemnation it has provoked, it must not be permitted to obscure the nightmare that is being faced by Pakistani citizens on death row in other countries. Most pressing, perhaps, is the fate of those who face execution in Saudi Arabia.

This week, Asmat Hayat was beheaded. Asmat was married with five sons and one daughter, all dependent upon him for a living. He received little formal education and worked as a farmer. He was always been very religious and dreamed of one day performing Hajj. In 2009 he was approached by a man who promised an introduction to a friend who helped people perform Hajj for free for the good will of Allah. Excited, Asmat and his brother went to Islamabad, where they were taken to a house, supposedly overnight prior to the flight to Saudi. However, they found themselves kidnapped and Asmat was forced to swallow drugs, and told that his family would be harmed if he did not fly on to Jeddah.

When he arrived, the drugs were detected by officers from the Saudi counter-narcotics agency, which continues to receive no-strings-attached support from the UN and its Western donors.. He was tried in Arabic (a language he did not speak), without a defence lawyer, denied the opportunity to present his defence, and sentenced to death by beheading. All this happened in 2009, and he waited six years without knowing what might happen to him.

Only when the Justice Project of Pakistan (JPP) intervened did Asmat have the slimmest hope of justice. In his last call with his lawyers he eagerly asked for news of his ongoing case in the courts at home in Pakistan - where his lawyers hoped the issues and evidence in his case might finally receive a fair hearing by an independent tribunal. Sad to say, that hope turned to dust on Wednesday, 5 August for Asmat and for his six children His family were not able to see him before he died, nor did the jail even inform them of his passing. Instead, that too was left to his JPP lawyers.

There is no doubt that Asmat's human rights were trampled under the Saudi rush to executions. The same is true for Ibrar Hussain, Muhammad Ismail, and Nazir Ahmed, who have also already been executed. While it is too late for them, at least six other Pakistani men are left who face the same fate, under depressingly similar facts. They are Muhammad Imran, Ghulam Shabbir, Muhammad Irfan, Muhammad Afzal, Safeer Ahmed, and Mohammad Fiaz.

All nine men were migrant workers who sought better employment to support their families. All nine men were victims of a criminal ring. With one exception, all the men were forced to ingest drugs at gunpoint, or their families were threatened. Some were themselves drugged in order to it easier to force the drugs into them. All this so that the drug smugglers could make huge profits from wealthy people who would buy their illegal wares.

The true scale of the exploitation of Pakistani migrants in Saudi Arabia is unknown but the profile of Saudi Arabia's death row paints a desperate and discriminatory picture: As of 2014, of 243 persons tracked by Reprieve, who are known to have been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in recent years, 110 are from Pakistan.

Some countries that enforce the death penalty vigorously in their own courts nevertheless ensure justice for their citizens abroad. Indonesia even provides free legal assistance to those who cannot pay themselves, which is more than can be said for some European countries. The Pakistan government has a duty to insist on the basic human rights of these men. The focus must be on taking real action to stop the trafficking - of both humans and narcotics - instead of allowing trafficking rings to function with impunity while their victims, like Asmat Hayat, are put to death.