Update from Wilder Tayler on the situation of Commissioner Muhannad Al-Hasani

Dear ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members,

I am writing to follow-up on my letter of 21 August 2009 concerning the arrest and detention of our Syrian ioner Muhannad Al-Hasani. As he awaits likely prosecution before the State Security Court, Muhannad Al-Hasani is now facing a disciplinary “trial” before the Syrian Bar Association on the same charges pending against him before the State Security Court.  The Syrian Bar Association is not independent and is under the control of the Baa’ts ruling party.  Under the 1981 Syrian Bar association law, Al-Hasani might be suspended from practicing law for an unlimited or indefinite period.  The Bar Association allowed him to be represented by a lawyer during this proceeding, and according to information provided by his lawyer, Al-Hasani is remains at risk of ill-treatment in Adra prison, Damascus.

I had a meeting with the Syrian ambassador last Friday. It was an opportunity for me to express the ICJ¹s deep concern about the arrest of Al-Hasani and to impress upon the the Syrian Government that his arrest constitutes a serious attack against the Syrian legal profession and the Rule of Law in Syria.

However, I am concerned that it is quite possible that the Syrian authorities will go ahead with the trial of Al-Hasani before the State Security Court. If this were to occur, we will monitor the trial. Meanwhile, we are seeking to send an urgent mission to Syria in solidarity with Al-Hasani and to see if we can make progress with the relevant officials in Damascus.

The Mission will try to meet with representatives of the Syrian Government, the Bar Association and the State Security Court, and will seek Al-Hasani¹s release and the dropping of the charges, and the restoration of his capacity to practice his profession, including as a human rights defender.  The Mission will also try to have access to Al-Hasani in Adra prison.

I will let you know as soon as there is any further development with this situation. Many thanks to those of you who have already taken actions in defense of, and solidarity with, our colleague Muhannad Al-Hasani.

Best regards,

Wilder Tayler

Acting Secretary General

International Commission of Jurists

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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

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

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district.

February 1-2, 2009

 

Background

 

On January 29, 2009, the print and electronic media reported that a case for blasphemy had been registered against five persons of the Ahmadiyya community under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) in Kot Sultan police station of Layyah district. A complaint lodged with the police accused five Ahmadis of writing the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the walls of the mosque’s toilet in village 172/TDA. The accused named in the First Information Report (FIR) included minor males and matriculation students. All accused subsequently voluntarily appeared before the police and were arrested. The accused denied the allegations vehemently.

 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) sent a fact-finding mission to Layyah on February 1-2, 2009 to verify the facts. The mission included Mr. Mehboob Ahmad Khan (HRCP legal officer), Mr. Nadeem Anthony (HRCP Council member), Mr. Irfan Barkat (human rights activist), Mr. Munawar Ali Shahid (journalist/HRCP member), Mr. Waqar Gillani (journalist), Mr. Abdul Manan (journalist), Mr. Asif Yaqoob (activist) and Mr. Fareedullah (journalist). During its visit to Layyah, the HRCP team met villagers, members of the Ahmadiyya community and the local administration.

 

The complete fact-finding report can be read here.