Verdict vindicates demand for independent judiciary: HRCP

Press Release, February 25, 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Wednesday regretted the judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualifying Mian Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif by a short order.

A statement by HRCP said: “This apparent politicisation of the rule of law has further devalued the respect of the superior judiciary of the country. The people of Pakistan are sharp enough to distinguish between judgments based on justice and those delivered for ulterior political motives. The writing was on the wall. Pakistan is going through a critical period and further destabilisation of Punjab can only add to the country’s woes.

Political parties including the PPP have suffered at the hands of judicial pronouncements that selectively victimise political parties and their leaders. The judicial assassination of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the hounding of late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as well as leaders of the ANP and the PML-N are now established historical facts. These errors continue at huge costs to the country.

HRCP hopes that political parties will remain united in giving precedence to the mandate of the people over dubious judicial pronouncements. This motivated judicial interference has vindicated the demand of the lawyers’ movement for an independent judiciary. It is now quite apparent that the democratic process will not move forward unless the nexus between the judiciary and the executive is not severed.

HRCP warns that the country needs political reconciliation rather than polarization that will leave a vacuum for adventurism. National and international players concerned with political progress in Pakistan must take note of this disturbing development. Woefully, Pakistan’s rulers misinterpret the US support for them as license to play havoc with their opponents and democratic norms.”

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

HRCP calls for body to recover missing persons

Press Release, February 20

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon the government to immediately set up a high-powered and independent commission to deal with cases of enforced disappearance in Balochistan, release any people in unacknowledged custody of state agencies, and help secure the release of the UNHCR official, Mr John Solecki. In a statement issued here today the commission said:

The case of the abduction of the UNHCR official, Mr Solecki, and the demand by his abductors for the release of a large number of Balochistan citizens, including many women, continues to assume ever more serious dimensions. It is almost three weeks since Mr Solecki was abducted and every passing day increases apprehensions about his safety. At the same time the group that claims to be holding him has issued a list of 867 involuntarily disappeared people, including over a hundred women. A separate list of 138 women also has been released and it contains addresses of 76 women and the dates of their ‘arrest’. Whatever one may think of the authenticity of these lists it is obvious that the situation created by the claim of disappearance of so many women is far more serious than it had so far been assumed. It is the first time the people, at least outside Balochistan, have learnt of the enforced disappearance of Baloch women. Even if the list is partly correct it should make all politicians and civil society defenders of the oppressed hang their heads in shame.

In this situation the government cannot sit with folded hands. Every effort must be made to assuage the Baloch people’s feeling of outrage. This should have been a top priority issue even if Mr Solecki had not been abducted and should remain so after his case is solved. While attempts to secure Mr Solecki’s release through negotiations should continue the federal government must immediately set up a high powered and independent commission, with Balochistan adequately represented on it, to investigate the cases of all missing persons and secure the release of all those who are found in unathorised detention. The commission should have the power to summon any state employee and to grant appropriate relief. Even before the commission is formed it is necessary to order all state agencies to immediately disgorge anyone held in their custody or show cause for holding him/her. This is necessary to serve as proof of government’s  earnestness in trying to heal the festering  sore the issue has become.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

Attacks on journalists expose intolerance, Swat truce: HRCP

Press Release, February 19, 2009

 

LAHORE: The murder in Swat of journalist Musa Khankhel hours after his abduction on Wednesday dampens the unreasonably high expectations of peace after a truce called between the government and local militant groups, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has said.

 

The murder also exposes risks to free expression in the restive region, HRCP said. At the same time, an attack on SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam in Lahore, also on Wednesday, reveals the extent of intolerant attitudes in the rest of the country, the Commission said in a press statement on Thursday.

 

The statement said: “Journalists have frequently faced violence in the tumultuous Swat region. However, Khankhel’s murder became the first violation of a truce between the government and militant groups. Ironically, the journalist was covering a ‘peace march’ led by the local militant leader’s father-in-law when he was taken away.

 

The president and prime minister have expressed grief and ordered an investigation. But this must go beyond political statements. The government must look more closely at its new partners in ‘peace’, who have been consistently accused of large-scale and unusual savagery and destruction, of which there has been abundant evidence and media coverage. It is that independent coverage that Khankhel’s murder aims to prevent. The government must ask itself if it is negotiating with a party that has the ability or willingness to deliver on its promises.

 

Khankhel’s brutal murder has understandably shaken journalists in the Swat region. The warning could not have been any clearer for them.

 

Mercifully, Mr Imtiaz Alam escaped serious injury in the attack in Lahore. However, the incident exposes the threat intolerance and militancy pose to free expression across the country.

 

The government must act swiftly to bring the perpetrators in both cases to justice and protect journalists working in Swat and the rest of the country.”

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

HRCP sees risk to basic rights and constitution

Press Release, February 18

Lahore: Commenting on the Peshawar announcement of February 17, regarding the enforcement of the Shariah law in the Malakand Division, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed serious concern at the absence of any guarantees against transgression of the constitution and the people’s basic rights. “Both of these – the basic law and the fundamental rights – have apparently been exposed to a grave risk”, the commission has said in the following statement issued here today.

Even after making due allowance for the need for peace and appreciating the problems faced by the Frontier government and the security forces, it is not possible to overlook the threat the Peshawar accord on the enforcement of Shariah in the Malakand Division poses to the constitution and the people’s fundamental rights. HRCP is convinced that the country’s basic law and the rights of the people both have been placed at a grave risk. The plan to enforce what is described as Shariah without any assurance that all the local judges charged with enforcing it will be equal to the task or capable of arriving at a single interpretation of the scriptures could condemn the people, especially women, non-Muslims and smaller Muslim sects, to irremediable excesses.

Since the Malakand Division consists of five districts besides Swat, the population involved is by no means small and there is no guarantee that other territories in the Frontier province and beyond its boundaries will not be affected.

HRCP acknowledges the principle and value of a dialogue but it is essential to be sure of the other party’s bona fides, credibility and capacity to honour its commitments. No dialogue is possible with a party that seeks to impose its fiat at gunpoint.

The ordinary citizens’ desire for speedy and inexpensive justice is understandable but it is the state’s duty to save them from falling for a regime that may save them some time and a few pennies but all this at the cost of justice, particularly in an area where feudal / tribal norms are often equated with divine injunctions.

HRCP shares the grief and anxieties of the people of Swat and other parts of the Malakand division over their losses in life and property and the hardships caused to poor wage-earners and students. It should like to hope that under the proposed arrangement they will not be made to suffer more than what they have already undergone. The nation must find ways of demonstrating better solidarity with them than has so far been evident.

Without doubting at the moment the motives of the Frontier government it seems necessary to point out the huge responsibility to protect democracy, the constitution and fundamental rights it has assumed and that its success or failure will determine the future of not only its own province but the whole of Pakistan.

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district.

February 1-2, 2009

 

Background

 

On January 29, 2009, the print and electronic media reported that a case for blasphemy had been registered against five persons of the Ahmadiyya community under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) in Kot Sultan police station of Layyah district. A complaint lodged with the police accused five Ahmadis of writing the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the walls of the mosque’s toilet in village 172/TDA. The accused named in the First Information Report (FIR) included minor males and matriculation students. All accused subsequently voluntarily appeared before the police and were arrested. The accused denied the allegations vehemently.

 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) sent a fact-finding mission to Layyah on February 1-2, 2009 to verify the facts. The mission included Mr. Mehboob Ahmad Khan (HRCP legal officer), Mr. Nadeem Anthony (HRCP Council member), Mr. Irfan Barkat (human rights activist), Mr. Munawar Ali Shahid (journalist/HRCP member), Mr. Waqar Gillani (journalist), Mr. Abdul Manan (journalist), Mr. Asif Yaqoob (activist) and Mr. Fareedullah (journalist). During its visit to Layyah, the HRCP team met villagers, members of the Ahmadiyya community and the local administration.

 

The complete fact-finding report can be read here.

Ahmadis held without any evidence of blasphemy: HRCP

Press Release, February 12, 2009

 

LAHORE: Five Ahmadis detained on charges of blasphemy in Layyah district have been held without virtually any proof or witnesses, the Human Rights Commission (HRCP) said on Thursday.

 

The commission, which had sent a fact-finding team to Layyah district last week, said its findings concluded that an investigation, mandated by law prior to the registration of a blasphemy case, was also not held.

 

The HRCP team learned that a prayer leader in the village had allowed Ahmadi students from a nearby tuition centre to offer prayers in his mosque. The students were later threatened by a government schoolteacher and never went to the mosque again. Around 10 days later, some villagers claimed finding blasphemous writings in the mosque’s toilet.

 

In the First Information Report (FIR), the complainant said: “Since these Ahmadis are the only non-Muslims coming to the mosque, therefore they must have committed the offence.” The ‘argument’ was heard time and again during the HRCP team’s interviews with the mosque administration, some villagers and the local police.

 

The police and villagers conceded that there were no witnesses or evidence of the Ahmadis’ involvement. The HRCP team found elements belonging to banned extremist organizations and a relative of the National Assembly member from the area had pressurised the police to register a case. “It is clear that a local politician has also used his influence” to book the Ahmadis, the commission’s report said.

 

HRCP said the complainant and his extremist supporters are adamant that the Ahmadis should be punished on the basis of presumption.

 

HRCP has demanded a prompt and transparent investigation into the matter to ensure that innocent people are not victimised. It has also demanded the government must ensure that the Ahmadiyya community in the village is not harassed or ostracized. The Commission has also asked the government to take prompt measures to rule out misuse of the blasphemy law.

 

The detailed fact-finding report can be accessed at the HRCP website: www.hrcp-web.org 

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

Failure to nab perpetrators of Shia killings worries HRCP

Press release, February 11, 2009

 

Lahore: The recent string of target-killing of Shias in Balochistan and the government’s failure to bring any of the perpetrators to justice is a cause for growing alarm, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said on Wednesday.

 

A press statement issued by the Commission said: “The killing of Shia notables in Quetta has sadly become a frequent occurrence. Some of the killings have been owned by an extremist organization flying a religious standard. The number of the Shia community members killed there over the recent years has exceeded 300. The government’s failure to track down the culprits has understandably enraged the targeted community, and it has also emboldened the perpetrators to kill with impunity. Besides religious figures, liberal politicians, businessmen and government officials have been targeted.

 

The government must surely now know that the community is exasperated with the government’s inability to perform one of its basic functions, that of ensuring that the lives of the people are protected. The Sunni population also fears that unhindered killings of the Shias might cause sectarian strife in an area where the sects have generally coexisted peacefully for centuries.

 

HRCP fears that the state agencies’ consistent failure to track down the killers may prompt the targeted community to retaliate against members of other sects, which is perhaps the sort of violence those behind the target-killings want to trigger.

 

The province, which has been in the grip of an insurgency for many years and now faces a growing threat from the Taliban, cannot afford that. The government must act decisively to investigate the killings in an efficient manner before the situation slips into further chaos.”

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson