HRCP slates bid to gag Balochistan newspapers

Press Release, 28 August 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Friday called upon the government to respect press freedom in Balochistan and end the practice of laying virtual siege of independent newspapers’ offices in the province.

A statement issued by HRCP said: “The Commission is alarmed at reports of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel laying siege of Quetta offices of at least two newspapers. On August 18, Urdu daily Asaap announced suspension of its publication after the security forces cordoned its Quetta office for two weeks and all visitors and employees were frisked, questioned and humiliated.

FC personnel have now been deployed outside the offices of Urdu daily Aazdi and nobody is allowed in without submitting to a search and questioning.

Journalists and the media in Balochistan face numerous security threats and this makes their work even harder.

Even prior to the security forces’ clampdown, these newspapers were being victimised and Asaap – one of the widely-circulated Urdu newspaper in Balochistan – had been denied government advertisements for a number of years.

To say that the government agents’ actions are illegal and in clear violation of domestic and international guarantees for freedom of expression is to state the obvious, but HRCP must remind the government that curbing freedom of the media, stifling newspapers or denying them advertisements will only add to the problems it faces in Balochistan.”

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

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HRCP demands independent inquiry into extrajudicial killing in Swat

Press Release, 17 August 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has rebutted the denial of extra-judicial killings by security agencies in Swat operation by ISPR’s Swat Media Centre and has demanded of the government to hold a transparent and impartial inquiry into this issue by a multi-party parliamentary committee in collaboration with the representatives of the civil society.

In response to ISPR’s statement published in a section of the press on August 16, a statement issued by the HRCP said on Monday: “The Commission reiterates that it has come across credible accounts of extrajudicial killings and complaints of reprisal attacks by the security forces during the operation in Swat.

Some of the better known instances include the death of militant leader Maulvi Misbahuddin –credible evidence shows he had been apprehended by the security forces and later the bodies of Misbahuddin and his son were found in Bacha Bazar. The government claims that they were killed in an encounter while eyewitnesses hold that they were arrested by the police in Mardan. Amir Izzat, spokesperson for the Swat militants, was arrested from Amandara. Two days later the authorities claimed that Izzat was killed allegedly by militants trying to rescue him when they attacked the vehicle taking him to jail. Independent journalists claim that the targeted vehicle shown to them did not even have an engine. The most harrowing reports were of dead bodies strewn upside down by the military with notes attached to the bodies warning that anyone supporting the Taliban will meet the same fate.

In its statement the ISPR has conceded the presence of mass graves in the conflict-hit area. However, HRCP believes that this is not enough and the government must conduct a transparent inquiry into this issue to ascertain the circumstances under which the bodies were buried. The military cannot simply explain the existence of these mass graves by alleging that the bodies were of militants buried by other militants. HRCP has knowledge of other versions to the contrary. HRCP suggests that a multi-party parliamentary committee should be formed to conduct an inquiry into this issue as well as into the reports of extrajudicial killings to which HRCP will extend its cooperation.

HRCP also demanded of the government to clarify whether the government considers it as an internal law and order situation on which human rights are applied or does it treat it as an armed conflict that comes under humanitarian law.

HRCP will be happy if an impartial inquiry proves that extrajudicial killings did not take place in Swat but this sensitive matter cannot be disposed of through off-the-cuff statements by intelligence agency’s denial-writers.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

Factory owner was killed in police presence

Press Release, 7 August 2009

Lahore: The recent killing of a factory-owner in Sheikhupura at the hands of an angry mob took place in the presence of unarmed policemen, which reflects on poor professional capacity of the Punjab police in handling such sensitive and volatile situations, says the Human Rights Commission which conducted a fact-finding mission on the incident.

The HRCP team found out that on August 4 the police had arrived at the scene of the incident at Eastern Leather Factory Muridke when the factory-owner Mr Najib Zafar was in his office and he was wounded in a scuffle with some angry factory workers. Eye-witnesses told HRCP that the police hid Mr Najib in a store-room so as to keep him away from some violent workers.

The police men who arrived at the factory were un-armed and could not prevent the violent crowd of villagers outside the factory from entering the premises of the factory. When the provoked villagers and the factory workers teamed up to storm the store-room, the policemen looked the other way to save their own skin. The mob was free to beat the owner to death. A labourer, Muzammil, also lost his life due to a stray bullet.

HRCP found that a factory clerk, Qasim Ali, exaggerated the fall of a calendar inscribed with Quranic verses as a desecration of Quran to instigate fellow factory workers against the owner. Soon after this, extremist elements in Muridke area made provocative announcements of the alleged desecration of Quran from the mosques of nearby villages without confirming the facts and incited the common people to attack the factory owner and kill him.

HRCP observed that after the incident, a widespread fear exists among factory owners in the region that the spread of such baseless rumours by unhappy factory workers against an owner may result in a replay of similar incident.

The family of the victim, Najib Zafar, told the HRCP team that they wanted the repeal of the blasphemy law for it has been abused by the extremist people like the factory clerk, Qasim Ali, to achieve their own nefarious objectives and spread violence.

HRCP also demands of the Punjab government to hold special refresher courses for the police staff to handle such delicate situations and act professionally on such occasions.

HRCP was told that there are more than 500 workers in the factory but there exists no trade union. It believes had there been a trade union there, it would have worked to channelize and resolve the grievances of the workers and to prevent such a violent incident.

HRCP is of the view that the government must ensure the implementation of Amplifier Act so that the loud-speakers of mosques could not be used by extremist elements to spread hostility and violence as it happened recently in Gojra and now in Sheikhupura.

Asma Jahangir, Chairperson

For favour of publication

Press Release, 6 August 2009

Lahore: A Reference for the pioneering student leader Dr. Muhammad Sarwar will be held here at HRCP’s  Dorab Patel Auditorium on Saturday August 8 at 5 p.m.

Dr. Muhammad Sarwar was amongst founding leaders of the Democratic Students Federation (DSF) and  the All Pakistan Students Organisation (APSO).  He was also instrumental in the formation of Inter-Collegiate Body of Karachi (ICB) which along with DSF spearheaded the students struggle for the acceptance of students charter of demands in 1953.

Twice elected to the office of General Secretary (national), Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) that continues to play a leading role in the affairs of medical profession, Dr. Muhammad Sarwar was amongst those who had formulated a people-friendly health policy. It was unfortunate that the policy, duly presented to the concerned quarters by the PMA, remains unimplemented.

Born at Allahabad, Dr. Sarwar came to Pakistan in 1948 and joined Dow Medical College,Karachi. After graduation he practiced for over forty (40) years at his clinic in the lower middle class locality, Golimar,

Coinciding with his Birthday, the Reference for Dr.Muhammmad  Sarwar,  will be addressed by Mr. Hameed Akhtar; Mr.I.A. Rehman;Mr. Abid Hasan Manto;Dr. Haroon Ahmad, Dr. M. Ilyas, Prof. Afzal  Tauseef, Ms. Salima Hashmi; Dr.Izhar Chaudhry General Secretary PMA,Punjab, Mr.Farooq Tariq LPP leader,Mr.S.M. Naseem former editor “Students’ Herald”, Zaman Khan, Ammar Ali Jan, Dr. Farrukh Gulzar and Dr. Zakia Sarwar.

The Reference will be followed by tea. Later, participants may join discussion to be facilitated by Mr. S.M. Naseem, Beena Sarwar and Ali Cheema.

Issued on behalf of: Friends and Admirers of Dr. Muhammad Sarwar
By Husain Naqi

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

Gojra admin knew about pre-planned attacks: HRCP

Press Release, 4 August 2009

Lahore: Last week’s attacks targeting the Christian community in Gojra were not a spontaneous reaction to allegations of blasphemy but were planned in advance, a fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has found.

The mission’s report, released on Tuesday, said announcements made from mosques in Gojra on July 31 urged the Muslims to gather and “make mincemeat of the Christians”. Witnesses told HRCP that when they informed the police about the announcements, the police officials had also confirmed hearing the announcements.

On the following day, August 1, around 1,000 people gathered in the town and marched towards Christian Colony. A police contingent present in the neighbourhood did not try to stop the mob, which included a number of masked men.

Witnesses said the attackers went about destroying Christians’ houses in a very professional manner, and seemed to be trained for carrying out such activities. They had brought along petrol and other inflammable substances and torched over 40 houses of Christian families in less than half an hour. Many of these houses were looted before being torched. Muslims’ houses adjacent to the Christians’ houses were spared.

Witnesses said a number of attackers were from the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and other militant organisations. The Regional Police Officer (RPO) told HRCP that many of the attackers had come from outside the district, possibly from Jhang.

Amid the brutal killings and destruction in Gojra, the Commission also noted that some Muslims in the neighbourhood provided shelter to Christian women fleeing the violence.

The barbaric attacks are an embarrassment for any society or people who call themselves civilised.

HRCP believes that the local administration’s inaction ahead of the riots was intriguing.

HRCP said the tragic incidents of Gojra are a comprehensive failure by the government to protect minorities either through administrative measures or legislative ones. The culprits, including the local administration, must be brought to justice in an expeditious and transparent manner, HRCP said.

The government must act to prevent any attacked based on a person’s faith, instead of belatedly reacting through award of compensation. It must also ensure that its vows of ensuring interfaith harmony move beyond rhetoric, the HRCP report concluded.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson