Pakistani: Stop violence and repression against activists!

FIDH Press Release on Long March
Pakistani: Stop violence and repression against activists!

Paris, March 12, 2009: The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses its concern regarding the wave of violence and arbitrary arrests that marked the long march that started today. Organized across the country by lawyers and opposition groups, the march intended to end with a sit-in in front of the Parliament in Islamabad, calling President Asif Ali Zardari to fulfill a pledge to reinstate all judges sacked under former President Pervez Musharraf.

According to the information received, the days before the march, government forces conducted raids and arrested opposition members, including members of the country’s lawyers’ movement. Following the raids, many opposition politicians and party leaders went to hiding. Protesters led by lawyers and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif call for judges sacked by former President Pervez Musharraf to be reinstated. Chief among the lawyers’ demands is the restoration of a former chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Today, the Pakistani police in Karachi used sticks to attack protesters outside the high court, as lawyers began an anti-government protest march. Dozens of demonstrators were arrested: more than 400 opposition activists in the past few days, according to officials. The opposition claims over 1000 arrests. The repression was aggravated with the authorities’ decision to ban political gatherings of four or more people at one time, under Section 144 in Sindh and Punjab provinces. The ban was allegedly extended today to the whole country for security reasons, in order to avoid bloodshed.

FIDH calls upon the Pakistani government to respect the rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly in conformity with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), signed by Pakistan, and release immediately all activists arbitrarily arrested, including lawyers and members of the opposition. “Pakistan has long experienced serious human rights violations under the regime of General Musharraf. It’s time to genuinely promote the rule of law and to ensure that the rights of citizens are fully respected ” said FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen.

Background information:

The arrests and rally come as Pakistan teeters on the edge of political instability following last month’s Supreme Court of Pakistan ruling that barred Sharif and his brother from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction. The Supreme Court’s controversial decision followed continued turmoil over the country’s judiciary, which has further ruptured relations between PML-N and Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), formerly coalition partners. Opposition groups and lawyers have been mobilising support for the four-day march on Islamabad since the court ruling on 25 February and tensions are high as the country’s political and economic crisis is deepening in a volatile context of several attacks by extremists groups in parts of the country and the practical handing over of power to the Taliban in Swat in the Frontier province.

The statement is also online at http://www.fidh.org/_nouveautes.php3/IMG/article_PDF/spip.php?article6415

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