Press Release, March 11, 2009
Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed dismay at curbs on freedom of assembly, arbitrary arrests and harassment of lawyers, political figures and civil society activists ahead of the lawyers’ long march.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, HRCP said: “A wave of indiscriminate arrests has been reported from across the country ahead of the long march. Such arrests, snatching and placing of containers on roads, and imposing curbs on the right to peaceful assembly are measures disturbingly similar to the path military ruler Pervez Musharraf had taken against dissent and peaceful protest. The government is abusing legal process to prevent the people from exercising their democratic rights.
There is no justification for the government’s undemocratic decision to impose Section 144 curbs on the right to assembly and unleash a spate of arrests and harassment against lawyers, political workers and civil society activists. In Punjab, the enforcement of Section 144 restrictions has compounded the already tense situation created by the imposition of governor’s rule.
All the marches, rallies and protests of lawyers in the past two years have been peaceful without exception. The government, therefore, has no justification in preventing gathering of lawyers.
Indiscriminate actions – such as arrest and confinement in police stations of people like Tahira Abdullah, an HRCP board member – are hardly a distinction for a government that prides itself at being democratically elected.
The government’s resort to ways of authoritarian regimes has cancelled out whatever goodwill it had achieved by not interfering with the lawyers’ long march last year.
The government’s action is undemocratic, counterproductive and will only fuel confrontation. Whatever the outcome of the present protest, the government’s reckless policy is posing a grave threat not only to the democratic experiment but also to the state’s integrity.
There is still time for the government to give up the policy of conflict and defuse tensions by accommodating the demands of lawyers, ending governor Raj in Punjab, and allowing the Punjab Assembly to exercise its right to elect its leader.
The government must release all the detainees and desist from impeding in any way the people’s constitutional right to peaceful assembly and protest.”