Judges’ restoration a good first step: HRCP

Press Release, March 16, 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has welcomed the restoration of judiciary as a first step towards strengthening democracy and rule of law and said the people of Pakistan have sent a clear message that they will not settle for a sham democratic process.

A statement issued by the Commission on Monday said: “The HRCP welcomes the restoration of superior court judges and congratulates lawyers, the civil society, political parties – including the Pakistan People’s Party – and above all the people of Pakistan, who again demonstrated their ability for a worthy cause whenever they found one. We wish Monday morning’s decision had been taken earlier. Still the announcement revealed the difference of approach between a military regime and a civilian democracy. This is a clear message from the people to leaders of all political parties that they will not settle for a sham democracy.

However, this is merely the first step. Real challenges now begin and the people expect that they will get not only an independent judiciary but also justice. This will not come about automatically but will require some doing. The people also expect that the restoration of judges will ensure the rule of law and independence of judiciary and also that the parliament will make earnest efforts to save the judiciary from the harmful effects of politicization.

The HRCP has all along been concerned about the lack of independence of the Election Commission and of a satisfactory mechanism for the appointment, tenure and terms of service of members of the superior judiciary. An independent Election Commission is crucial for the democratic system to go forward in a smooth and non-contentious manner. Similarly, mechanisms for appointments and accountability of judges must enjoy the confidence of the legal fraternity and the people. The people expect speedy progress on federation-making, guarantees of provincial autonomy and priority to economic concerns of the people, specially their need for relief from unemployment and poverty. In addition, just as people from all schools of thought had come together for the cause of the judiciary and democracy, the people expect all political parties to get together to promote democratic governance and improve the level of social justice in the country.”

Asma Jahangir Chairperson

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Stop this madness, says HRCP

Press Release, March 13

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has strongly condemned the use of force on peaceful lawyers and political workers, specially the violence that resulted in serious injury to Ms. Musarrat Hilali, and has called upon the authorities to stop their mad operations. Ina statement today, HRCP said:

The words of sane counsel, offered from both domestic and international, quarters has had no effect on the government’s power-crazy establishment. Not only lawyers and their supporters are being denied their right to freedom of movement, those joining peaceful processions are being subjected to violence. Neither women nor senior citizens are being spared. HRCP strongly condemns the use of brute force on Ms Musarrat Hilali, not only because she is HRCP vice-chairperson for Frontier province but also because she is a widely respected advocate and has done a lot for the have-nots in Peshawar and across the country. The police had no right to break into her house and intimidate and abuse her family members. In the climate of terror created by the so-called law-enforcing personnel Ms Hilali got her leg fractured. The administration cannot absolve itself of this barbaric act. Similar reports of house gates being pulled down at night in a bid to arrest MPAs, and other political workers have been received from many towns in Punjab and Sindh. This madness must stop and civilized ways found to defuse the situation that is threatening Pakistan’s most vital interests. All those taken into custody must be released forthwith and the police firmly warned against violating the peaceful citizens’ basic rights.
Iqbal Haider
Co-chairperson

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

HRW- Pakistan: Free Detained Opposition Activists

For Immediate Release

 

Pakistan: Free Detained Opposition Activists

Curbs on Freedom of Assembly Should Be Revoked

 

(New York, March 11, 2009) – The government of Pakistan should end its crackdown against activists of opposition groups led by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Human Rights Watch said today.

 

Since March 10, 2009, authorities have detained at least 300 activists from the opposition party and affiliated groups from across Punjab province, the party’s stronghold. Scores of opposition politicians are in hiding, fearing arrest. The activists have been detained under various provisions of the Maintenance of Public Order Act or simply detained without charge.

 

“It’s a disgrace for elected officials to mimic the discredited military government by using old and repressive laws to stifle political expression,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The protesters who were arrested should be freed right away and allowed to demonstrate peacefully without fear of violence or arrest.”

 

Supporters of the party, headed by the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, are being arrested to prevent them from converging on the capital, Islamabad, for a “sit-in” in support of the restoration to office of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the Supreme Court chief justice who was illegally fired in November 2007 by Pervez Musharraf, then the country’s military ruler.

 

The Punjab and Sindh provincial governments have imposed a discredited colonial-era legal provision, section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which bans gatherings of four or more people, to prevent the protest march to Islamabad. The Punjab police, acting on orders from the provincial government, have set up police checkpoints and roadblocks across the province.

 

Pakistan has been gripped by a political crisis since February 25, 2009, when the country’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling that banned Nawaz Sharif from contesting elections because of a previous criminal conviction. The court also disqualified Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, from continuing as the chief minister of Punjab province.

 

Nawaz Sharif declared “rebellion” against the government and vowed to force a resolution of political disputes “on the streets” at a rally in the city of Lahore on March 5. Along with lawyers seeking the reinstatement of Chaudhry, Sharif announced a protest march to Islamabad, scheduled to arrive in the city on March 16 and culminating in an indefinite sit-in until Chaudhry is restored to office.

 

Human Rights Watch said that by placing curbs on the rights to peaceful assembly and association, Pakistan’s government was making use of the same authoritarian tools it had decried when in opposition.

 

“Pakistan’s transition to democracy is imperiled by the government reacting to a political dispute with unnecessary force,” said Hasan. “Regardless of political differences, rights-respecting leaders don’t lock up people for trying to participate in their country’s political process.”

 

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Pakistan, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/en/asia/pakistan

 

For more information, please contact:

In Lahore, Ali Dayan Hasan (English, Urdu): +92-300-842-5125 (mobile)

In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-79-0872-8333 (mobile)

In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin): +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)

Govt adopting dictatorial ways: HRCP

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.”

 

 

Iqbal Haider

Co-chairperson

HRCP sets the record straight

Press Release, 19 January 2009

 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan heard chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry’s comments on the laxity of human rights organisations in the country. In his address at the inaugural ceremony of the Karachi Bar Association, the Chief Justice lauded a foreign organisation for breaking the story on Zareena Marri and chided the national organisations for being unaware of this incident.

 

 HRCP has enormous regard for Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and therefore wishes to put the record straight. Human rights violations in Balochistan have been regularly monitored by HRCP and several reports issued. Those conducting fact-finding missions ran great risks and some were also fired upon and this for exposing grave human rights violations during the military operations.

 

 HRCP hopes the Chief Justice can recall the petition filed by HRCP on disappearances in the Supreme Court on 08-02-2007, which was eventually heard by the honourable Chief Justice himself a month later. Mr. Muneer Mengal, who is the source of the Zareena story, was on the list of missing people. The government disclosed in August 2007 that he had been sent to ATF jail in Quetta after being detained in Central Jail Khuzdar. HRCP regrets that Muneer Mengal was not produced in court and his statement recorded despite a request made by HRCP. This could have given valuable leads to other human rights violations that came to his knowledge during detention.

 

 A representative of HRCP met Mr. Mengal in jail in November 2007. Mengal disclosed that he was tortured, offered women, wine and money but did not , at that time, give details or names of women offered to him. HRCP noted the statement recorded by RSF on 11-12-2008 after Mengal had left the country and the same statement was subsequently released by AHRC but with substantial additions on 12-01-2009. Under these circumstances any credible organisation will wish to verify facts before initiating an effective campaign. HRCP is not in the habit of raising issues without verification.

 

The shocking disclosure now made obliges all associations and organisations to probe the allegations. HRCP does not claim to be the sole custodian of the rule of law and would greatly appreciate co-operation in such difficult fact-findings of eminent lawyers who have played a laudable role in upholding the rule of law. HRCP appreciates the Chief Justice’s concern about human rights issues in the country. However, the role of HRCP goes beyond 9 March 2008 and despite some lapses it has played an important role since 1986 in investigating human rights violations and promoting democratic values. It has constantly tried to bring such issues into the public domain without fear or favour and will continue to do so.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

Urgent Appeal to Stop Hanging

Press Release, October 6

 

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan strongly appeals to President of Pakistan to revoke hanging of Zulfiqar Ali in Adyala Jail Rawalpindi who’s Red Warrants were issued for his hanging on 8th October, 2008.

 

Zulfiqar Ali is in Jail since 1998 on charge of murder. He was very poor to afford a lawyer to defend himself and did not had a chance of fair trial and basic norms of justice.

 

It is reported that wife of Zulfiqar Ali died of Cancer during his trial and has left two minor girls and no one is to look after them.

 

As recently announced by the Prime Minister of Pakistan that death sentences would be abolished, HRCP reminds and urges that death sentence should be abolished.

 

Iqbal Haider

Co-Chairperson