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For Immediate Release
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Pakistani Government Must Not Leave Swat Valley Residents "At the Mercy of the Taliban," Urges Amnesty International

Taliban Has Killed Scores of Government Workers, Destroyed More Than 170 Schools in Swat Region of Pakistan


The Pakistani government
should act immediately to protect hundreds of thousands of people from
insurgents in the Swat valley and elsewhere in the country, Amnesty International
said today. According to official estimates, over the past year more than
1,200 people have been killed and an estimated 200,000 - 500,000 have
been displaced from the Swat valley as a result of fighting between Pakistani
Taliban groups and the military.

"The Pakistani Taliban have shown their
contempt for the lives and rights of the people of the Swat valley, while
Pakistani military forces have often violated the human rights and disregarded
the safety of the people that they are ostensibly trying to protect,"
said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director.

Since 2007, a local armed group ideologically
affiliated with Afghanistan's Taliban movement has managed to take effective
control of nearly 80 percent of the Swat valley territory, once a tourist
destination only 100 miles from Islamabad.

In Swat, the Pakistani Taliban have committed
serious human rights abuses, including the unlawful killing of scores of
government workers, as well as those whom they view as violating their
edicts. The Taliban have publicly whipped men for shaving their beards,
destroyed shops for selling music and forcibly prohibited women from leaving
their houses unless escorted by a male relative.

The main square of Mingora, the area's largest
city, has been locally dubbed Khooni Chowk, or "bloody square", in reference
to the more than two dozen bodies the Pakistani Taliban have publicly displayed

There are an estimated 3,000 Taliban insurgents
located in the Swat Valley. They often endanger civilians by seeking shelter
in villages, knowing that this might provoke military reaction.

"For the past five years, the government's
response to the rise of insurgents in Swat and the tribal areas has vacillated
between launching often indiscriminate and disproportionate military operations
that mostly harm civilians and abandoning Pakistani citizens to abusive
insurgent groups," added Zarifi.

Up to 15,000 government troops are deployed
in Swat seeking insurgents. They have used helicopter gunships and heavy
artillery in their operations, often in an indiscriminate way, harming
civilians as they do so. Fear of government military operations, rather
than the Taliban, has been cited by tens of thousands of people who have
fled the area.

"The Pakistani government needs to implement
a strategy that focuses on respecting the rights and the well-being of
its citizens and refrains from heavy-handed military operations which put
civilians at risk. The government should also ensure it does not leave
its citizens at the mercy of the Taliban," said Zarifi.

Amnesty International condemned the Pakistani
Taliban's campaign against education, especially for girls. Over the past
18 months, the Taliban have destroyed more than 170 schools in Swat, including
more than 100 girls' schools. These attacks have disrupted the education
of more than 50,000 pupils, from primary to college level, according to
official estimates.

Amnesty International urged the government
to take protective measures to guarantee that pupils of both genders, including
those who have fled their homes, have access to education when schools
reopen on March 1. If the government cannot protect schools in the area,
it should ensure that displaced children have access to alternate means
of receiving an education, Amnesty International said.

"By disrupting education, the Taliban are
threatening the rights of another generation of Pakistanis," said Zarifi.
"The Pakistan government must ensure the people fleeing the conflict have
adequate access to their basic needs such food, health care, and education,
and that local and international humanitarian agencies are able to safely
provide assistance to them."


Swat is a settled area distinct from neighboring
tribal areas on the Afghan border normally home to around 1.5 million people.
Over the past two years, radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah and his
followers have increasingly established control over the region, imposing
a de-facto administration. The group has consolidated its control by setting
up a parallel justice system with over 70 "courts" to administer "speedy
and easy justice." In practice, these courts met out punishments that
amount to cruel, degrading, or inhumane treatment.

The Pakistani Taliban have used their nightly
FM radio broadcasts to announce "wanted" lists of local politicians and
government workers to appear before their courts, or face the consequences,
and have recently threatened to kill all lawyers and judges if they failed
to stop working with the state judicial system. Half or more of Swat's
800 police officials, too afraid to remain on duty, have either taken leave
of absence or deserted their ranks.

In May 2007, a peace plan between the government
and the insurgents in Swat, which purportedly allowed the militants to
regroup, broke down. Since then, the government has not articulated any
clear policy about how it intends to protect the rights of the residents
of the Swat valley.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning
grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters,
activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human
rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates
and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice,
freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Amnesty International is a global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people - no matter who they are or where they are. We are the world's largest grassroots human rights organization.

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