International Federation for Human RIghts (FIDH)

Today, 16 August 2012, FIDH Deputy Secretary General, Nabeel Rajab, was sentenced by the Bahraini Lower Criminal Court to three years imprisonment for “involvement in illegal practices and inciting gatherings and calling for unauthorised marches through social networking sites”, for his “participation in an illegal assembly” and for his “participation in an illegal gathering and calling for a march without prior notification”. FIDH strongly condemns this sentence and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President declared “it’s been over a year that the Bahraini people have been peacefully asking for human rights and democracy. How does the government remain so deaf to these calls? Arbitrarily imprisoning human rights defenders will not stop the people from aspiring to freedom and democratic change. We hope that the international community will firmly condemn this decision and will call for Nabeel’s release.”

On the same day, the Higher Appeal Court also decided to postpone the verdict in the appeal against the decision of the Lower Criminal Court which had earlier sentenced Nabeel to 3 months imprisonment for alleged libel after he tweeted on 2 June 2012 a message asking for the Khalifa to step down. The verdict is now expected for 23 August.

Press contact: Arthur Manet Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (in Paris)

 

 

 

IFJ Mourns Death of Young Reporter in Pakistan

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) are deeply saddened by the suicide of a young journalist in Lahore following her employer’s refusal to pay her salary.

Ms Semaab worked for local Lahore newspaper Daily Anti-Crime.  She was the sole financial provider for her family including younger siblings and her father who requires regular medical treatment for cancer. According to reports, Ms Semaab jumped from the fourth story of the hostel where she lived with her family on August 15 following the newspaper management’s persistent refusal to pay her salary for several months.

The PFUJ and IFJ extend its deepest sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of Ms Semaab. Tragically, Ms Semaab’s commitment to journalism was undermined by the very media organisation she worked for.

The exploitation of media workers in Pakistan is all too common. According to the PFUJ, media organisations including Khabrain, AAJ TV, News 1, TV1, Royal TV, Wasaib, Channel 5 and Indus TV are known to withhold employee salaries.   In similar incidents over the past 12 months, journalists working for Channel 5 and Aaj TV committed suicide after their employers withheld salaries for several months.

 

In a statement, PFUJ Secretary General Amin Yousaf demanded media owners stop exploiting their workers and called on the Supreme Court Chief to take notice of this tragedy and direct the media owners to pay salaries to their workers.

The Seventh Wage Award for journalists and newspaper workers in Pakistan, announced in 2000, guarantees conditions and wages under which journalists are employed in Pakistan however, the government and Wage Award Implementation Tribunal have failed to implement the statutorily determined level of wages for journalists. Journalists are increasingly employed without a contract or under short term contracts which are not accountable to the Wage Board.

“The death of Ms Semaab draws acute attention to the plight of exploited media workers in Pakistan” said IFJ Director Jacqueline Park.

“The IFJ urges the Government of Pakistan to take decisive action in the implementation of the Wage Award and hold media organisations accountable to all employees under the Act.”

The PFUJ, in partnership with the IFJ, recently deployed four missions to assess the situation for journalists in Balochistan, Interior Sindh, the Khyber – FATA region and Punjab.   The PFUJ/IFJ report on the State of Journalism in Balochistan Province, released on World Press Freedom Day 2012, is available on the IFJ website here.

 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on  +612 9333 0918

 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

 

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

 

Find the IFJ on Facebook: www.facebook.com/IFJAsiaPacific

“WORLD HUMANITARIAN DAY”, 19 AUGUST 2012 – SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN

Dear NGO Representative,

Attn: Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

As you may know, 19 August is World Humanitarian Day.  Every day we see and hear images and stories of human pain and suffering – in our own neighbourhoods or in countries far away.  We believe we can all do something about it, and that together, we really can make the world a better place.

In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly designated 19 August ‘World Humanitarian Day’: to raise public awareness of humanitarian assistance worldwide; to recognize people who risk their lives to help people in need – wherever they are; to mark the day when 22 UN and aid agency workers lost their lives in an attack on the UN offices in Baghdad

Four years later, World Humanitarian Day has become a global celebration of humanitarian action. This year’s ‘I Was Here’ campaign celebrates the collective power of people to help others and leave the world in a better state than they found it. It captures the spirit of ‘people helping people.  This can mean helping a neighbour or volunteering at a local charity.  It could also mean travelling to another country as part an emergency life-saving team or running a major aid operation.  Music superstar Beyonce is lending her inspiring song ‘I Was Here’ and helping to promote the campaign. We urge everyone to pledge at least one humanitarian action on WHD – however great or small – and tell the world about it

Our “goal” this year is also to make the day more well known–like Human Rights Day, or International Women’s Day.  To this end, the United Nations is engaged in a social media campaign, which aims to reach one billion people, with the theme of “people helping people.”

We are turning to you to get your organisation’s support for the campaign.

We are therefore asking you the following:

1. Please ask all your staff to join the campaign to support WHD through their personal Facebook, Weibo, or Twitter accounts.
2.  If your organisation has a Twitter or Facebook account, sign your organisation up to the campaign, using whichever account has more followers. Through the technology of Thunderclap, all your followers will be added to the total number of people reached.

 

 

 

Four years on…

Benazir Bhutto on her arrival in Karachi in Oct, 2007. Photo: Beena Sarwar

It’s four years since those pistol shots and bomb blast in Pindi’s Liaquat Bagh ended the life of Pakistan’s most promising politician and hope for democracy. There is no one to replace Benazir Bhutto but her legacy lives on in many ways. This is the first legitimately elected government ever in Pakistan to remain in office for as long as it has – and it will be the first to complete its tenure if allowed to do so and hand over power to the next elected government. This political process is essential to move Pakistan out of a quagmire that has taken decades to push us into. There are no quick fixes, no magic wands that can change things overnight. What’s important is the process and at least that is under way – thanks to Benazir Bhutto.

Thanks to YouTube, archival footage is now available to remind us of her legacy.In his moving article on Benazir, Saroop Ijaz refers to this interview of her’s soon after Gen. Zia’s death, in which she outlines her political vision of looking ahead, without vindictiveness. He begins the piece with lines that Benazir Bhutto recited, quoting from Dr Khalid Javed Jan’s iconic poem on her return to Pakistan in 1986: “Mazhab kay jo byopairi hainwoh sab se baree bemaari hain…. In jhute or makkaron semahzab kay thekedaron saymein baaghi hoonmein baaghi hoon” (The traders of religion are the worst disease, I rebel from these liars and hypocrites).

Complete lyrics at this link.

Cameraman Arif Khan (seated 1st right) was one of those killed at the bomb blast at Karsaz. Photo: courtesy Asadullah Khan

When Benazir arrived in Pakistan in October 2007, the air of anticipation was infectious. I ended up riding out to the airport on the back of a motorbike, passing hordes of celebrating people (see my cell phone photos) and pushing my way through a huge mob, past her ‘janesars’, to the top of her truck with my colleague Absar Alam who interviewed her for Geo TV (thanks to Naheed Khan who invited us up top). This was just hours before the bomb blast that killed over 180 people and injured scores of others, including Benazir, as her convoy passed Karsaz Road in Karachi.

The next morning to everyone’s astonishment, despite her own trauma (ears oozing blood from the bomb blast), she breached security protocols to visit the injured in hospital, and by afternoon was patiently presiding over a chaotic press conference at Bilawal House. The place was ill equipped to deal with the explosion of TV channels that had taken place over the past few years. At one point, our eyes met and she smiled in recognition of the absurd situation.

Barely two months later she was dead – literally having paid with her life for democracy. I was in Lahore then. As we mourned together, Hina Jillani’s observation on how much Benazir had changed during her years of exile has stayed with me. She looked different, positively radiant, with a simple plait replacing the old bouffant hairdo, no heavy make-up, her by now trademark white dupatta draped over her head rather than the earlier matching shawls and jackets with padded shoulders. She was no longer arrogant, she listened, she was willing to learn.

Benazir Bhutto giving her first interview to a Pakistani journalist on her return in Oct, 2007. Photo: Beena Sarwar

But she remained consistent in her adherence to peaceful, non-violent, constitutional means to bring democracy back to Pakistan. This was clear even in the early years when she campaigned around the world against Gen. Zia’s military regime and came across enthusiastic young turks talked of revolution or fighting the army regime with guns. Her fighting spirit remained evident in her insistence on contesting elections under the Musharraf regime (as she did during the Zia years), even as many progressive liberals urged her to boycott. Her answer: “Boycott, and then what?”

She prevailed upon her former arch-rival Nawaz Sharif, who was dithering on the boycott issue, to agree to contest elections. Imran Khan in his wisdom, stayed out of the fray and in the political wilderness (until suddenly being projected into prominence earlier this year).

To those who tried to push her into supporting the individual over the institution (with reference to the restoration of the judiciary), Benazir wrote: “I remain committed to the freedom and vitality of democracy as the great Quaid-e-Awam had dreamt of. Yes, it is true that you have to deal sometimes with the devil if you can’t face it but everything is a means to an end. I have great respect and admiration for the Judiciary both bench and bar. I have great respect for individuals both present and ex. Ultimately, however, it is the institution that has to decide collectively what course to take. I hope this clarifies my viewpoint.” (Dec 3, 2007)

The devil of course was Musharraf and the deal was the much-maligned National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) without which she and other politicians could not have returned to Pakistan to participate in politics.

Lawyers’ movement: PPP and ANP workers took the heaviest casualties on May 12, 2007 in Karachi. HRCP report: http://bit.ly/uv0uV4

As Marvi Sirmed writes in her heartfelt personal tribute remembering Benazir today, being a woman never hindered her,

“so much so that when the forces opposing her tried to use her biology against her, she turned it around. When she was expecting Bilawal, they announced elections around the dates they thought she would be in maternity. I cannot forget her coming to the political rallies with her intravenous drip in her hands… When she was expecting Bakhtawar during her premiership, the crisis was once again carefully chosen to coincide with the dates of her delivery. She did not make herself absent from her office for more than 48 hours.

“All through her political life, she struggled against the hegemony of the oppressive deep state that used every jape that they could, and from right-wing rhetoric that was nauseatingly misogynist and anti-people.”

Despite the hurdles, despite being always under siege – “We were in government but not in power” – she would say – she achieved much. Her son Bilawal lists some of these accomplishments in his tributeto his mother.

Benazir Bhutto with her children visiting Asif Zardari in prison. Photo: Larkana Times

What we do know is that there are 86,000 more schools because of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. That, under her government foreign investment quadrupled; energy production doubled; exports boomed. Under her government, 100,000 female health workers fanned out across the country, bringing health care, nutrition, pre and postnatal care, to millions of our poorest citizens. It was under her government that women were admitted as judges to the nation’s courts, that women’s police departments were established to help women who suffered from domestic violence and a women’s bank was established to give micro loans to women to start small businesses. It was under Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s leadership that cell phones, fibre optics and international media were introduced, and the Pakistani software industry blossomed. And it was on her very first day as prime minister, that all political prisoners were freed, unions legalised and the press uncensored. It was an amazing record of accomplishment, made even more remarkable by the constraint of aborted tenures, by constant pressure from a hostile establishment and presidents with the power to sack elected governments.”

The hostile establishment remains hostile but the President no longer has the power to sack an elected government. This is one of the current elected government’s several achievements that tend to get overshadowed by the explosive (no pun intended) situation around. Other achievements include the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package, increase of minimum wages from Rs 4,600 to Rs 7,000 a month, political rights to Gilgit-Baltistan, extension of the Political Parties Act to FATA, bills for women’s rights and empowerment, the 18th and 19th constitutional amendments (that include getting rid of Zia’s clause that allowed the President to dissolve Parliament), the combined NFC Award (moving towards provincial autonomy), signing Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline agreement despite American opposition, forcing the Americans to tie aid to Pakistan to the continuation of democracy with the ‘Kerry-Lugar Bill’ (another reason the military hates this government), kicking out the Saudi ambassador for distributing money to terrorists, expanding the Lady Health Workers programme (initiated by Benazir Bhutto), and continuing her legacy of non-vindictiveness towards political rivals and dissent. It should be a matter of pride for Pakistan that this government has not carried out any capital punishments, in line with its unofficial moratorium on executions.

The political situation remains volatile. But there are many positives to build upon. Things will not change overnight, but the process is underway. Despite the apparent unpopularity of the present government, theare is a difference this time round, given that efforts are being made to take preemptive steps to mobilise politically (for example, the Citizens’ statement on the ‘Memogate’ issue) against unconstitutional moves to topple the government. Perhaps some lessons have been learnt from the past.

STATEMENT ISSUED AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE SAHR REGIONAL CONSULTATION OF CITIZENS’ VOICES ON “THE CHALLENGES FOR SOUTH ASIA : HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY”

Kathmandu , 27-29 November 2010
 
South Asians for Human rights (SAHR), a network of independent human rights activists from eight countries, noted with concern the lack of transparency of democratic institutions, and the exclusion of citizen’s participation in legislation and policy making.
 
The meeting welcomed the SAARC Summit initiative for a Charter of Democracy but were concerned that the draft of the charter was limited to a bureaucratic exercise and did not ensure that citizen’s voices be heard. 
 
SAHR recognises that the people of South Asia share common bonds of culture, history and geography but notes with concern that government visa regulations have restricted freedom of movement within the region.  This has frequently led to cross border killings by security forces and detention of foreigners in prison in neighbouring countries.
 
SAHR notes with concern the threats to people’s sovereignty due to increased militarization, anti-terrorist and security laws which give impunity for violations of the right to life, liberty and freedom of torture, erosion of secularism, and dominance of majoritarian interests in political decision making. The upsurge of extremist violence and obscurantism has encouraged customary practices which are a threat to women’s rights to movement, choice and security. 
 
SAHR is concerned that emergency laws imposed in the name of state sovereignty undermine people’s sovereignty,  and that parliaments need to become transparent and open to citizens’ participation  so that legislation promotes human rights.
 
SAHR was concerned  with the use of religion as a tool for discrimination against minority communities even in  secular States, and that while the constitutions guarantee equality irrespective of caste, class, ethnicity, religion or gender, attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship are committed with impunity.
 
Armed conflicts, economic development, natural disasters, climate change have led to internal  displacement, further contributing to poverty and deprivation. 
 
SAHR calls upon governments of South Asia to:
Include citizens’ voices in the formulation of the SAARC Charter of Democracy through active engagement with citizens’ groups.
·        Repeal or amend security laws to include human rights guarantees.
·        Enforce constitutional guarantees of freedom from torture.
·        Urge the government of Bhutan to release political prisoners, set up effective and efficient institutions to oversee human rights and to resettle Bhutanese refugees in their home country.
·        Prevent the usage of emergency laws to suppress fundamental rights and dissent.
·        Ensure constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and thought, without fear of repercussions or reprisal.
·        Formulate a South Asian protocol on treatment of prisoners in accordance with the Paris Principles and a regional convention for settlement of the internally displaced persons in conformity with the UN Guiding Principles on IDPs.
·        Ratify the UN Conventions on Refugees and the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families and include clauses to protect migrant workers in bilateral treaties.
 
SAHR recognises that while the State has the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights, this is not possible without the active engagement of citizens across the region who share a common South Asian identity.
 
SAHR thus urges human rights defenders and activists to:
 
·        Engage with parliamentarians in order to ensure that human rights concerns are addressed in parliament.
·        Press on governments and government institutions to halt discriminatory practices that serve to further marginalise minorities, because of their religion, language, ethnicity, caste, sect, gender and sexual orientation.
·        Put pressure on their respective governments to end military rule in Burma .
·        Engage in draft a Charter of Democracy which would contribute to an inclusive, democratic culture and strengthen democratic institutions. 
·        Interact closely with media to provide information, to promote and protect human rights and to strengthen freedom of expression and thought. 
  
  
South Asians for Human Rights
Kathmandu , 29 November 2010

Plight of Gadani ship-breakers highlighted

KARACHI, Dec 1: It is a rarity that a film on the lives of the labourers who scrap ships is made, that too in a country whose film industry is almost nonexistent. This fact made the screening of a documentary, Iron Slaves , produced and directed by Khalid Hasan, at the IEP auditorium on Wednesday an interesting experience. The screening was sponsored by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

The film starts with a few slides giving facts about the ship-breaking industry, one of which suggests it`s the lowest paid job in Gadani. Some long shots of the Gadani beach and the yard are shown and then a series of interviews begin, aided by narration through voiceover. The interviews, intercut with voiceover and occasional shots of the labourers working on the beach, show a young boy (Shah Alam), a man who has spent four decades lifting, scraping and breaking iron (Allah Bachayo), a young kid Qaiser, a man from Azad Kashmir, one from southern Punjab and a few others telling about the lives that they lead as ship-breakers.Some of the stories told by Allah Bachayo and Shah Alam are heart-wrenching.

Through these interviews it becomes known that the labourers live in subhuman conditions with no medical or recreational facilities. The entire area has only one medical dispensary run not by a doctor but by a compounder-type person Liaquat, who basically provides first-aid to those who come to him either after receiving an injury or feeling sick. The seriously injured or sick are taken to hospitals in cities for which transportation is hard to find. Ambulances are unavailable. There`s no water to take a bath, leave alone to drink. Sometimes the labourers use seawater to clean them up.

Another sad point that was unanimously discussed by the poor workers was that they haven`t had their salaries for six months.

Allah Bachayo`s tales are particularly poignant. He knows the names of the deserted vessels for scrap — Canberra, Lady Diana ka jahaz, etc. He once injured himself and was taken to the Jinnah hospital and had 10 stitches to cover up the injury. He didn`t even have time to visit the hospital again and get the stitches removed. Shah Alam, however, appears to be the focus of the director`s attention, for he begins and ends the film with his story. He is an impulsive lad who wants his due. At the end he leaves the yard (or beach) for Karachi without getting his pay.

While the intent behind Iron Slaves was praiseworthy, the documentary noticeably lacked research work that must go into such ventures.

Information on the ship-breaking industry, all over the world, on how the one at Gadani took root, on how the labourers are hired and on who the people responsible for their plight are would have made it strong content-wise. It hinged only on the interviews with the labourers that in a manner of speaking gave a lopsided view. Those who have deprived them of facilities at least should have been shown to have been approached even if they denied talking about it.

Then it also did not pictorially explore the yard or the area. There were a couple of interesting shots in the film when some workers are seen pushing a heavy piece of iron. Expanding on such scenes would have enhanced it aesthetically.