Human Rights Watch: Pakistan: End Emergency Rule and Restore Constitution Move Against 'Militants' Brings Crackdown on Civil Society
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NOVEMBER 5, 2007
CONTACT: Human Rights Watch
Pakistan: End Emergency Rule and Restore Constitution Move Against 'Militants' Brings Crackdown on Civil Society
WASHINGTON - November 5 - Pakistan should immediately return to
constitutional rule, restore fundamental rights and end its crackdown on
the judiciary, lawyers, media, human rights activists and political
opponents, Human Rights Watch said today.
General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani military ruler whose recent
election as president had yet to be ratified by the Supreme Court, declared
a state of emergency at 5 p.m. on November 3, 2007. Following the
declaration, Pakistani authorities arrested hundreds, mostly judges,
lawyers, and human rights activists. Musharraf has imposed sweeping
censorship rules on the media. All private television channels and
international media have been taken off the air.
On November 4, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz suggested that national
elections scheduled for January 2008 may be postponed.
"On the pretext of fighting militants, General Musharraf has mounted a
coup against Pakistan's civil society," said Brad Adams, Asia director at
Human Rights Watch. "Musharraf says the country needs emergency laws
to fight fundamentalists, yet the crackdown is focused on the judiciary,
lawyers, media and human rights activists. It's clear this is aimed solely at
keeping himself in power."
On the evening of November 3, a seven-member bench of the Supreme
Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry convened to
issue an order barring the government from proclaiming emergency rule
and urging government functionaries not to implement emergency orders.
These judges were forcibly removed from the Supreme Court premises by
military troops and detained thereafter. Chaudhry, who has led efforts to
establish an independent judiciary and had survived an attempt by
Musharraf earlier this year to dismiss him, was summarily fired.
Only four of the Supreme Court's 17 judges have taken an oath of
allegiance to the Provisional Constitutional Order issued on November 3
by Musharraf, which suspended the constitution and gave Musharraf
almost total power. At least 60 of 97 senior judges in Pakistan have also
declined to take an oath. Many have been placed under detention to
prevent them from resuming judicial duties.
"Musharraf has claimed he was building the rule of law, but in his single-
minded determination to cling to power he has eviscerated the judiciary,"
said Adams. "He has exposed himself as nothing more than a petty
Human Rights Watch called for the release of all political activists
rounded up by the authorities. On November 4, Aziz said on Pakistan state
television that more than 500 people have been arrested. This includes
hundreds of lawyers across the country, including Aitzaz Ahsan, president
of the Supreme Court Bar Association, office bearers and presidents of
provincial bar associations, and virtually all leading lawyers associated
with the movement for judicial independence that began on March 9 with
the attempted ouster of Chaudhry as chief justice by Musharraf. While
some lawyers have been placed in police custody, Human Rights Watch
has learned that others, including Ali Ahmed Kurd, a senior lawyer from
Balochistan, have been handed over to the military's feared Inter Services
Intelligence (ISI) agency. The ISI has a well-documented history of using
torture on its political opponents.
The offices of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan in the central city of Lahore were raided on November 4, and 60
of the country's most prominent human rights activists were arrested as
they attended a meeting. Police had no written orders and are claiming the
right to detain those arrested for up to 90 days under the colonial-era
Maintenance of Public Order Act. The detainees are being held at the
police lock-up in Model Town (Block A), Lahore, and their families have
not been allowed access to them.
Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the human rights commission and a United
Nations Special Rapporteur, was served a 90-day detention order on the
night of November 3. She remains under house arrest after her house was
officially deemed a sub-jail.
Around 30 television news channels have gone off the air since November
3. Cable television operators told Human Rights Watch they were asked
by the government to stop beaming all local and foreign news channels,
except the state-controlled Pakistan Television. Hours later, Musharraf
introduced curbs on the media through two decrees amending earlier
ordinances barring the media from printing or broadcasting "anything
which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the
armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organ of the state."
The print and electronic media have also been restrained from publishing
any material that is likely to "jeopardize or be prejudicial to the ideology
of Pakistan or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or any
material that is likely to incite violence or hatred or create inter-faith
disorder or be prejudicial to maintenance of law and order." Television
discussions on anything which is deemed to be "false or baseless" by the
regulatory authorities has also been banned.
Journalists have been repeatedly threatened and prevented from covering
events following suspension of the constitution, had their equipment
confiscated, and been warned that if they record footage of arrests or
police raids, they will face arrest and incarceration.
Human Rights Watch urged the United States, Musharraf's main patron, to
end its support for Pakistan's military government and to seek an urgent
return to the rule of law and elected governance in Pakistan. Human
Rights Watch welcomed the statement issued by the US embassy in
Islamabad calling for the release of those detained and an end to
censorship, and the statement from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
that the US would review its aid to Pakistan. "The United States has never
put all of its chips on Musharraf," she was quoted as saying. Musharraf
ignored public calls by senior US government officials not to impose a
state of emergency.
"This is as big a test for the Bush administration as it is for Musharraf,"
said Adams. "Thus far, Washington's long support for a military
government has merely led to an unprecedented political crisis that could
lead Pakistan to disaster, not least in the effort to address international
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