HRCP seeks abolition of death penalty, moratorium on executions

Press Release, October 10

 

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called upon the government to end the death penalty in the country, and place an immediate moratorium on executions until the punishment is abolished.

 

In a statement issued on World Day against the Death Penalty on Friday, the Commission said: The government of Pakistan should seriously consider moving towards the abolition of death penalty. While the government’s announcement in June to commute death sentences to life imprisonment was admirable, it has not been followed up by action.

 

The pronouncement of punishment and executions continue in Pakistan amid the acknowledged and well documented critical defects of the law, of the administration of justice, of the police investigation methods, the chronic corruption and the cultural prejudices affecting women and religious minorities. In the circumstances, the punishment allows for a high probability of miscarriages of justice, which is wholly unacceptable in any civilised society, but even more so when the punishment is irreversible.

 

The HRCP notes that, contrary to the much vaunted argument of deterrence, the systematic and generalised application of death penalty has not led to an improvement of the situation of law and order in the country.

 

It is ironic that while Pakistan has one of the highest rates of conviction to capital punishment in the world – with around 7,000 convicts on the death row in Pakistan today –  yet its law and order situation is alarmingly dismal. The massive application of death penalty has not strengthened the rule of law, but its application has, much on the contrary, weakened it substantially.

 

The death penalty is discriminatory, unfair and utterly inefficient and must be abandoned in accordance with the international human rights law.

 

In the very least the government should also promptly restrict the number of offences carrying the death sentence to the most serious crimes only, and refrain from adopting new crimes entailing capital punishment, in conformity with international human rights standards. Imposition of capital punishment, if it is to be passed at all must be in the rarest of cases and execution of it as a measure of last resort.

 

In the meanwhile, the government must adopt an immediate moratorium on executions in light of the serious shortcomings of due process and fair trial in the criminal justice system. There is a serious danger of miscarriage of justice resulting in taking an innocent life if executions are carried out without serious review of the law and its practice. It is vital that the criminal legal system be thoroughly reformed to reduce the incidence of crimes and to ensure that wrong persons do not suffer through being implicated falsely in cases. This alone will bring us closer to achieving justice.

 

There must also be an immediate end to the sentencing and execution of minors, and death sentences pronounced against persons who were below 18 at the time of the offence should be forthwith commuted.

 

Pakistan must take the path of conforming its practices to international human rights norms. So far it has only challenged these at all forums.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

CPJ: U.S. military frees Afghan journalist from Bagram

Committee to Protect Journalists

330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 USA Phone: (212) 465‑1004 Fax: (212) 465‑9568 Web: www.cpj.org E-Mail: media@cpj.org

U.S. military frees Afghan journalist from Bagram

New York, September 22, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the U.S. military’s release of imprisoned journalist Jawed Ahmad from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Sunday, 11 months after he was first detained. But CPJ calls again on the U.S. military to end its practice of holding journalists without charge on an open-ended basis.

Ahmad, 22, was never charged with a crime, and military officials have never explained the basis for his prolonged detention. Ahmad, who is known by his nickname Jojo and also uses the surname Yazemi, does not know why he was freed, according to an interview with the Canadian Globe and Mail. Ahmad worked most recently as a field producer for the Canadian broadcaster CTV and had several other freelance clients in the past.

Ahmad said he was detained at a NATO airfield near the southern city of Kandahar where he worked, after being invited there by someone who said he was a U.S. public affairs officer, according to the Globe and Mail. He was later transferred to the U.S.-operated air base at Bagram, he said. He told the newspaper he was beaten, that two of his ribs were broken, and that he was deprived of sleep.

“We are relieved that Jawed Ahmad has been freed and we wish him the best with his return to work,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator. “But he has lost almost a year of his life being held without charge and says he was brutally treated by his captors. His case adds to the U.S. military’s appalling record of detaining working journalists in conflict zones, without a modicum of due process, based on allegations which are shrouded in secrecy and have apparently proved to be unfounded.”

The U.S. military detained Ahmad on October 25, 2007. CPJ publicized his case after being alerted by Carlotta Gall, The New York Times reporter based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who had worked with him. A Pentagon spokesman told CPJ in February that Ahmad had been classified as an “unlawful enemy combatant” but did not provide information about the allegations or evidence against him.

A statement issued today by Capt. Christian Patterson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said Ahmad had been released because he “was no longer considered a threat.” The statement offered no explanation for the 11-month detention. Ahmad told the Globe and Mail his U.S. interrogators were suspicious of his reportorial contacts with local Taliban. 

CTV News President Robert Hurst issued a statement today to CPJ. “It is startling that U.S. military authorities released Jojo Yazemi on Sunday morning without any explanation about why he was apprehended in the first place and then declared an enemy combatant,” Hurst said. “CTV News is also concerned about his health after he recounted his treatment while in U.S. custody. Our priority now is to get Jojo Yazemi back to Kandahar and reunited with his family.”

CPJ research shows that at least one other journalist remains in U.S. military custody. Freelance photographer Ibrahim Jassam, who was working for Reuters in Iraq, was detained September 2 by U.S. and Iraqi forces; he has not been charged. The U.S. has held dozens of journalists in Iraq, at least 10 of them for prolonged periods, according to CPJ research. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was released in April after a two-year detention on unsubstantiated allegations of collaborating with local insurgents.  

On May 1, Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman for Al-Jazeera, was released from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after six years in detention. Al-Haj, also designated an “enemy combatant,” was never charged with a crime.

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.

Bob Dietz  bdietz@cpj.org

Asia Program Coordinator

Madeline Earp mearp@cpj.org

Asia Program Researcher

Committee to Protect Journalists

330 Seventh Ave, 11th floor

New York, NY 10001

+1 212 465 1004

www.cpj.org

HRCP urges justice for Dr. Afia and others

Press release, 5 August 2008

 

Lahore: With the US finally admitting custody of Dr. Afia Siddiqi, one of the most brutal cases of suppression of individual freedom has become to unravel, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement on Tuesday.

 

The commission said: Public pressure has at last compelled the United States to admit that Dr. Afia is in their custody.

 

While the Pakistani government has belatedly begun to admit that it had some responsibility towards Dr. Afia, it has a lot of explaining to do as to who had been detaining her and where since she was picked up from Karachi in 2003 along with her three children.

 

To say that she had been taken into custody only on July 21, 2008 is a blatant lie, as transparently ugly as any falsehood can be. The insinuation, that she had been hiding herself since 2003, is a travesty of truth, an affront to people’s commonsense.

 

Dr. Afia’s case is a reminder of the grave injustice done to God knows how many Pakistanis in US detention facilities in Bagram in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and elsewhere, who have been listed as missing.

 

While reminding the government of Pakistan of its duty to trace all people who are reported to be involuntarily disappeared, HRCP calls upon all civil society elements and human rights organizations to make a concerted effort for the release of all missing persons and to ensure that Dr. Afia gets justice, that has long been denied to her and that in a manner no civilized people can condone.

 

Iqbal Haider

Co-chairperson

HRCP urges Musharraf, Kiyani to set aside death sentence

Press Release, March 7 

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has urged the president and the army chief to set aside the death sentence of a man, who is due to be executed on March 12, because he was denied basic rights during his trial.

In a statement, HRCP said that Zahid Masih, a sanitary worker with Pakistan Army since 2001, was tried by a military court and sentenced to death in 2006. HRCP said that Masih had been denied his basic right to defend himself, be represented by a lawyer and was allegedly beaten to extract a confession.

Two years prior to his conviction, Masih had “disappeared” from his workplace in Chirat cantonment. Zahid’s family later found him on the death row in the Peshawar Central Jail. He had been found guilty and sentenced to death on 10 March 2006.

Masih told his family that he had been in military custody for two years prior to his conviction and was severely tortured to confess to the murder. It is alleged that he was not provided any legal representative during the military trial. He was only allowed to communicate with his parents after the military court had convicted him.

He alleged that some orderlies of officers persuaded him that if he confessed the officers would help him. Another said that Masih’s confession would save the image of Pakistan Army. When allowed to meet his family in early 2008, Masih told them that messengers from officers of Chirat cantonments convinced him that he would be absolved of charges if he confessed. He alleged that another military personnel at the cantonment had committed the offence for which he had been framed for being the weakest person.HRCP called on Musharraf to show clemency and set aside Masih’s execution in view of lack of representation, Masih’s illegal detention and torture in custody. The commission urged the army chief to cancel Masih’s sentence as it had been passed by a military court.  

Iqbal Haider

Secretary General