Update from Wilder Tayler on the situation of Commissioner Muhannad Al-Hasani

Dear ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members,

I am writing to follow-up on my letter of 21 August 2009 concerning the arrest and detention of our Syrian ioner Muhannad Al-Hasani. As he awaits likely prosecution before the State Security Court, Muhannad Al-Hasani is now facing a disciplinary “trial” before the Syrian Bar Association on the same charges pending against him before the State Security Court.  The Syrian Bar Association is not independent and is under the control of the Baa’ts ruling party.  Under the 1981 Syrian Bar association law, Al-Hasani might be suspended from practicing law for an unlimited or indefinite period.  The Bar Association allowed him to be represented by a lawyer during this proceeding, and according to information provided by his lawyer, Al-Hasani is remains at risk of ill-treatment in Adra prison, Damascus.

I had a meeting with the Syrian ambassador last Friday. It was an opportunity for me to express the ICJ¹s deep concern about the arrest of Al-Hasani and to impress upon the the Syrian Government that his arrest constitutes a serious attack against the Syrian legal profession and the Rule of Law in Syria.

However, I am concerned that it is quite possible that the Syrian authorities will go ahead with the trial of Al-Hasani before the State Security Court. If this were to occur, we will monitor the trial. Meanwhile, we are seeking to send an urgent mission to Syria in solidarity with Al-Hasani and to see if we can make progress with the relevant officials in Damascus.

The Mission will try to meet with representatives of the Syrian Government, the Bar Association and the State Security Court, and will seek Al-Hasani¹s release and the dropping of the charges, and the restoration of his capacity to practice his profession, including as a human rights defender.  The Mission will also try to have access to Al-Hasani in Adra prison.

I will let you know as soon as there is any further development with this situation. Many thanks to those of you who have already taken actions in defense of, and solidarity with, our colleague Muhannad Al-Hasani.

Best regards,

Wilder Tayler

Acting Secretary General

International Commission of Jurists

HRCP urges Pakistan, India to resume prisoner swap, stop arrests for minor violations

Press Release, 5 August 2009

Lahore: As the Pakistani and Indian governments exhibit a welcome resolve to resume dialogue, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urges them to also reconsider the plight of each other’s nationals incarcerated in prisons across the border, institute long-term policies to de-criminalise minor visa or border-crossing violations and stop violating Article 73 (Enforcement of laws and regulations of the coastal State) of the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that prohibits the arrest of fishermen crossing a maritime border.

HRCP urges an early resumption of the process of reciprocal exchange of prisoners, halted since the Mumbai attacks.

HRCP endorses the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s demand for a permanent solution that includes a policy in which Pakistan and India stop arresting each other’s fishermen for maritime boundary violations. Such detentions routinely violate Article 73 of UNCLOS, according to which penalties for violations “may not include imprisonment, in the absence of agreements to the contrary by the States concerned, or any other form of corporal punishment”.

When making such arrests, the security agencies also seize boats, equipment and catch worth lakhs of rupees. Dozens of such boats, representing the hard work and sweat of the poor, lie rotting in harbours on either side.

Pakistan and India allow each other’s arrested citizens no access to consular services until after they have served their prison terms. Many languish for years in brutal conditions. They have no legal rights or the ability to challenge their arrest or engage a lawyer. Normally their families remain oblivious of their arrests, location of prisons and the conditions there.

Cases come to public notice when prisoners’ families or friends are lucky to acquire information, take up the issue and notify the media. Engaging lawyers across the divide also adds to the woes of the incarcerated prisoners and their families. Such families often remain long ignorant of the arrest and whereabouts of their loved ones. Sometimes, even after prisoners are returned, they have nowhere to go if they have lost track of their families, or their families have disowned them.

Use of torture as well as negligence is rampant in prisons in both countries.  This has resulted in the loss of lives as well as leaving many prisoners on both sides physically and mentally scarred for life.

The two States must ensure that each other’s nationals are repatriated at the earliest and that they are not denied basic human rights in prisons merely on account of their nationality.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

Alarming rise in killing of women and children in Karachi recorded during the 1st quarter of 2009

Press Release, April 14, 2009

 

An alarming rise in killing of women and children in Karachi was recorded during the first quarter of 2009

 

Karachi: According to the statistics maintained by Sindh Chapter of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an increase of 13% (8.4% in cases of women and 4.9 in children) has been recorded in the killings and accidental deaths of citizens of Karachi during the first quarter of 2009.  This does not include deaths due to road accidents.

 

During the first quarter of 2008, a total of 387 deaths were recorded including that of 25 women and 18 children, while during the first quarter of 2009, it was 415 including that of 62 women and 40 innocent children.

 

Below are some comparative figures for the first quarters of 2009 & 2008:

 

·        54 persons died due to drinking of toxic wine (2009)

·        45 persons were killed due to personal enmity while last year it was 32

·        37 persons killed during robbery while last year it was 44

·        24 persons lost lives in target killing while last year it was 25.

·        19 persons kidnapped and killed while last year it was 53.

·        19 dead bodies were found while last year it was 21.

·        17 political activists were killed while last year it was 51.

·        15 persons killed in police encounter while last year it was 20.

·        12 labourers died at work while last year it was 12.

·        11 policemen were killed while last year it was 15.

·        07 persons were killed on railway track while last year it was 11.

·        07 persons were killed due to stray bullets while last year it was 9.

·        06 persons were killed due to overdose of drugs while last year it was 4.

·        06 persons were killed in Lyari gang war while last year it was 17.

·        05 persons were killed by police torture while last year it was 02.

·        04 persons died in jail while last year it was 02.

·        03 Security guards were killed while last year it was 07.

·        01 person was killed in bomb blast while last year it was 14.

·        05 persons dead due to negligence of different departments of government.

·        01 person was killed by relatives due to love marriage.

·        01 person was killed in ethnic riots.

 

Women            

 

·        23 women were killed by unknown persons while last year it was 11.

·        20 women died due to burn injuries.

·        14 women were killed by their relatives while last year it was 12.

·        07 women were killed on railway track.

·        03 women killed during robbery while last year it was 02.

 

Children

 

·      40 children died in different incidents while last year it was 18.  Among the 40 this quarter, 21 children died due to fire, 6 were kidnapped and killed, 5 drowned in open sewerage tanks, dead bodies of 2 infants were found, 2 were killed due to stray bullets, 01 was killed on railway track and 1 lost life in target killing.

 

Major incident causing death during the first quarter of 2009

 

At least 40 people were killed and around 25 injured when a fire ripped through dozens of shanty homes in North Karachi, in January 2009.

 

HRCP Sindh Office

Unit # 8, First Floor, State Life Building # 5,

Abdullah Haroon Road, Saddar, Karachi

Ph: (021) 5637131 – 32.

Adiala first prison to have church

Daily Times - Saturday, January 03, 2009

 

RAWALPINDI: Adiala Jail becomes the country’s first prison to have a church on its premises. The prison is likely to open the doors of the church to its over 250 Christian prisoners in a fortnight. A bishop will formally open the church, it’s learnt. The Adiala Jail authorities have provided two and a half kanals land and local Christian community Rs 1.2 million for the church’s creation, the jail sources said on Friday. They said a volunteer godfather had been appointed to the church. A Christian prisoner said he was very delighted that the jail authorities took Christian inmates to the district courts’ church on Xmas Day and the New Year eve. He said the prisoners were allowed to stay at the church for hours. He said the event was first of its kind. He said Christians donated money and distributed meal among other prisoners on Christmas Day and New Year eve. Another Christian inmate praised the prison authorities for allotting land for the church. He said work on the church continued unobstructed till its completion. He said Christians were very happy to have a proper place of worship inside the jail. Pervez Masih, a visitor to Adiala Jail, said Christians had planned creation of churches in the province’s other jails too. He said his community expected the government’s financial and administrative support in this respect.

HRCP welcomes withdrawal of cases against Pakistanis jailed in India

Press Release, December 24

 

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has welcomed the recent withdrawal of cases by India against 51 Pakistani prisoners at a time of tensions between the two countries.

 

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Commission said: “The decision by India to drop cases against 51 Pakistani prisoners in Jodhpur Prison and the order to release them can only be welcomed. The gesture is even more appreciable than usual since it comes at a time when sanity is at a heavy discount on both sides and jingoism and war hysteria is being whipped up.

 

The 51 people charged with visa irregularities have already suffered enough for their mistakes. The HRCP urges the governments of India and Pakistan to not defer co-operation in such cases of humanitarian nature. Extending goodwill to each country’s prisoners in the other’s jails could be critical to promoting peaceful bilateral relations.

 

Both countries must also take urgent steps to ensure that the travel agents responsible for furnishing improper or tampered visas to visitors between the two countries are brought to justice and the illegal practice stopped.”

 

Dr Mehdi Hassan

Vice-Chairperson

Curbing jail riots impossible without prison reform: HRCP

Press Release, October 17, 2008

malir jail - dawn
malir jail – dawn

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed serious concern at recent incidents of prison unrest in the country and asked the government to undertake urgent prison reform instead of depending on short-term measures.

 

In a statement issued on Friday, HRCP said: “The recent rioting in prisons of Hyderabad, Karachi, Multan and Timergara and the loss of life there is tragic but unfortunately not unexpected. These incidents are a result of problems left unresolved for decades.

 

The issue is certainly bigger than prison riots or attempted jailbreaks alone. Appalling overcrowding, rampant corruption, torture, unhygienic food, lack of health facilities and staff training, tardy judicial process, inefficient investigation and prosecution are all key issues that have not been addressed and cannot be wished away.

 

Numerous committees set up in the past 20 years for prison reform have danced around these issues without meaningfully tackling them. Many useful proposals advanced by them have been ignored.

 

Measures such as suspending jail officials, registering cases against prisoners accused of rioting, and shifting detainees to other jails to avoid recurrence skirt the real issue. Reported torture and beating of prisoners following the riots is no solution, nor is providing police more teargas shells and smoke bombs, as is being considered following the riot in the Hyderabad jail.

 

According to the jail surgeon, the prisoners shot dead during rioting at Karachi’s Malir District Jail by guards had all been shot in the head or chest.  This is hardly the ideal method for riot control or a use of minimum force needed to quell the rioting and points to deficient training for jail staff at the very least.

 

The top leadership of the country is aware of the problems facing the prison system as they too have served extended jail terms. They have also suggested immediate remedial measures, which must be implemented.

 

Prisoners’ rights, including their right to life and dignity, must be observed in all circumstances and their safety ensured. Punishments other than penal servitude should also be considered, especially for petty crimes, to reduce population of jails already holding prisoners many times over their capacity. Prisoners must also be allowed communication with their family and lawyers via phone, at least under supervision. The criminal justice system needs to be reviewed and an adequate number of judicial officers ensured to tackle undue delay in deciding cases. The approach toward the prison system needs to be changed — the prisoner and the jailer both need to be humanised and terms of service of jail staff improved. A change in the Code of Criminal Procedure in October 2001 took away a provision regarding mandatory bail to prisoners whose trial had not begun for two years. This was presumably done to deny the provision’s benefit to political prisoners, but has led to massive swelling in the prison population.

 

The government must earnestly pursue a crash programme to deal with the issues and ensure that reforming prisoners must be central to any prison reform initiative.”

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

HRCP seeks abolition of death penalty, moratorium on executions

Press Release, October 10

 

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called upon the government to end the death penalty in the country, and place an immediate moratorium on executions until the punishment is abolished.

 

In a statement issued on World Day against the Death Penalty on Friday, the Commission said: The government of Pakistan should seriously consider moving towards the abolition of death penalty. While the government’s announcement in June to commute death sentences to life imprisonment was admirable, it has not been followed up by action.

 

The pronouncement of punishment and executions continue in Pakistan amid the acknowledged and well documented critical defects of the law, of the administration of justice, of the police investigation methods, the chronic corruption and the cultural prejudices affecting women and religious minorities. In the circumstances, the punishment allows for a high probability of miscarriages of justice, which is wholly unacceptable in any civilised society, but even more so when the punishment is irreversible.

 

The HRCP notes that, contrary to the much vaunted argument of deterrence, the systematic and generalised application of death penalty has not led to an improvement of the situation of law and order in the country.

 

It is ironic that while Pakistan has one of the highest rates of conviction to capital punishment in the world – with around 7,000 convicts on the death row in Pakistan today –  yet its law and order situation is alarmingly dismal. The massive application of death penalty has not strengthened the rule of law, but its application has, much on the contrary, weakened it substantially.

 

The death penalty is discriminatory, unfair and utterly inefficient and must be abandoned in accordance with the international human rights law.

 

In the very least the government should also promptly restrict the number of offences carrying the death sentence to the most serious crimes only, and refrain from adopting new crimes entailing capital punishment, in conformity with international human rights standards. Imposition of capital punishment, if it is to be passed at all must be in the rarest of cases and execution of it as a measure of last resort.

 

In the meanwhile, the government must adopt an immediate moratorium on executions in light of the serious shortcomings of due process and fair trial in the criminal justice system. There is a serious danger of miscarriage of justice resulting in taking an innocent life if executions are carried out without serious review of the law and its practice. It is vital that the criminal legal system be thoroughly reformed to reduce the incidence of crimes and to ensure that wrong persons do not suffer through being implicated falsely in cases. This alone will bring us closer to achieving justice.

 

There must also be an immediate end to the sentencing and execution of minors, and death sentences pronounced against persons who were below 18 at the time of the offence should be forthwith commuted.

 

Pakistan must take the path of conforming its practices to international human rights norms. So far it has only challenged these at all forums.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson