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Associated Press

2 US human Rights Activists Arrested in Pakistan

Zia Khan

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Two U.S. human rights activists who had sought the release of a prominent Pakistani lawyer detained under the country's state of emergency were arrested Tuesday, officials and a witness said.

Police traveling in two cars picked up Medea Benjamin and Tighe Barry near the Holiday Inn hotel in the eastern city of Lahore, said Amir Sohail, joint secretary of the Punjab Union of Journalists, who was with the two Americans at the time.

Elizabeth Colton, press attache at the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Islamabad, confirmed the arrests. She said that the two had contacted the U.S. mission in Lahore by phone, and that it was giving consular assistance.

A police official in Lahore, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said the arrest order came from "higher-ups." He said the two U.S. citizens were likely to be deported.

Pakistani newspapers reported during the weekend that the two Americans had been staging a vigil in the city to protest the house arrest of Aitzaz Ahsan, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

Ahsan was among thousands of lawyers and opposition workers detained after President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution on Nov. 3, drawing international condemnation. Most detainees have been released, but some high-profile critics of the retired general, such as Ahsan, remain under arrest.

Musharraf justified the state of emergency as necessary to curb judicial activism and Islamic extremism, although critics believe it was a step to prevent the Supreme Court scuppering his controversial re-election to a new term as president.

© 2007 Associated Press

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