Wednesday, May 24, 2023
United Nations human rights chief Volker Türk on Wednesday condemned coalition government’s decision to prosecute civilians involved in May 9 vandalism under the Army Act, terming its “disturbing”.
“Pakistan's plans to revive the use of military courts to try civilians is 'disturbing',” UN high commissioner for human rights said.
A large number of workers and supporters of PTI staged countrywide demonstrations on May 9 — when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan was arrested by paramilitary troops on the directions of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with an alleged corruption case.
The demonstrators destroyed public and private properties, attacked military installations and ransacked relics of martyrs. Following the incidents, the civil and military leadership resolved to give exemplary punishment under the Army Act to all those involved in hooliganism, arson, ransacking of public and private properties, attacking sensitive military installations and desecration of martyrs’ monuments on May 9.
Several leaders, including Senator Raza Rabbani, opposed the decision and the PTI even moved the Supreme Court against the decision.
Moreover, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have also urged the Pakistani authorities to stop clamping down on the opposition through mass arrests, arbitrary detention, and charging people under vague anti-terrorism laws, and to release immediately all those held solely for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
The joint statement in this connection was issued by Amnesty International, Equidem, CIVICUS and Forum Asia on Tuesday.
It said media reports had quoted Punjab Caretaker Information Minister Amir Mir as saying that using video and CCTV footage, geofencing and WhatsApp surveillance, a list of 25,000 people has been compiled, of whom 5,000 will be arrested for being directly involved in the May 9 attacks on government and military property.
“Those who are suspected to have committed a crime during the violent clashes following the short-lived arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan may only be charged using Pakistan’s ordinary criminal laws, consistent with international human rights standards, without resorting to overly broad and vague anti-terrorism provisions, and authorities must guarantee their constitutional right to a fair trial.
“A pall of fear hangs over Khan’s supporters following the arbitrary arrests of many opposition leaders, some of whom have been re-arrested outside the jail after being released and others from the court premises. People’s homes have been raided in the middle of the night, and people who participated in the protests have been arrested without a warrant,” noted the statement.
“Alarmingly, Imran Riaz Khan, a prominent journalist known for his support of the PTI was arrested at the Sialkot airport on 11 May and has not been heard from since. Despite court orders, police have failed to produce him, and his fate and whereabouts remain unknown. On 22 May, the police told the Lahore High Court that there is no trace of him in any police department in the province. This constitutes an enforced disappearance under international human rights law.”
Punishing dissenting voices using enforced disappearance has been a worrying trend in Pakistan for many years and “must be ended”, said Amnesty International and allied bodies.
The joint statement said: “Those arrested in connection with the recent protests must have their fair trial, rights respected, including the presumption of innocence, and independence and impartiality of the tribunal. They should not be tried in military courts or special counter-terrorism courts. Respect for the right to liberty also requires a presumption that they are granted bail.
“Every single person arrested is entitled to protections guaranteed under local and international law, including the right to have their case heard promptly before a judge or official, to be made aware of their charges, and to be treated humanely and with dignity. The courts that try them must be independent, impartial, and competent, and must respect the guarantees of fairness, including those set out in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
“Pakistan has an obligation to recognise, respect, and facilitate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ongoing crackdown is at odds with Pakistan’s international human rights commitments,” the joint statement added.