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

HRCP Press Release on Gojra and Korian Incident

Press Release, 1 August 2009

The religious riots in Korian village and Gojra are frightening, where Islamic Religious Zealots have taken the law into their own hands. According to information of HRCP, some local Muslims made allegations against Talib Masih, Mukhtar Masih and Imran Masih for burning the Holy Quran. The accused denied it vehemently and yet angry crowd of Muslims lead by religious preachers burnt down several Christian houses on July 30th, 2009, the day a wedding was to take place between the children of the two accused. Islamic militants from the outside the village has created an atmosphere of fear and has destroyed and burnt property using firearms and explosive. Six people have reportedly been killed and several wounded or burnt. The situation remains tense.

HRCP urges the Chief Minister to intervene and save the lives of innocent Christians living in Gojra, Korian and villages nearby. Those who violated the law be arrested and an independent investigation be conducted. Anyone, who has given rise to an atmosphere of hostility against a minority community should be apprehended and tried.

Dr. Mehdi Hassan
Vice chairperson
HRCP