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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Pakistan

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Pakistan, 18 June 2009, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

Following the unprecedented confrontation between the judiciary and the executive power, followed by the declaration of the State of emergency in November 2007 and the parliamentary elections, held on February 18, 2008, hailing the victory of opposition parties against the regime of President Musharraf, the year 2008 marked a new era for the country, initiating a long period of transition and uncertainty. The two main opposition parties, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), led by the widower of Ms. Benazir Bhutto, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, as well as the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, triumphed in the elections, following an electoral period marred with repression and intimidation (pressure on women by fundamentalist groups and bans to access polling stations, threats and attacks committed against voters by polling staff and unknown individuals, bomb attacks, etc.). After laborious negotiations, a coalition Government was formed in March 2008, led by the current Prime Minister, Mr. Yousuf Raza Gilani. The PML-N left the coalition in July as the PPP failed to restore the judges sacked by President Musharraf.1 Although the country has now an elected civilian Government, as of the end of 2008 the military high command had yet to cede the authority in key policy areas, including counter-terrorism.

The terrorist attacks throughout 2008 highlighted the threat that militant jihadi groups such as the "Lashkar-e-Tayyaba" (Le T) and "Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan" pose to Pakistan's fragile democratic transition. In addition, the fight against terrorism was accompanied by a poor human rights record of the authorities, in particular a series of grave human rights violations such as the recurrent use of torture as well as enforced disappearances of suspects,2 which fuelled a total loss of confidence of people in the State, promoted the use of violent responses, and severely undermined any democratic alternative, all while repressing defenders of public and individual freedoms. Rise in religious extremism also emerged in 2008 as one of the country's major issues.

Despite the arrival to power of a new Government, which was followed by the ratification by Pakistan of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as by the signature of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CAT), laws and regulations posing a serious threat to the civil society still remained valid, such as the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 1997, which enshrines a system of emergency and an accelerated procedure, officially to prevent and suppress terrorism, sectarian violence and appeals to hatred.

Furthermore, the attacks and other tactics used against media professionals continued in 2008. Thus, at the beginning of 2008, 45 television channels remained closed, and cases of gags on the media were reported in the run-up to the elections, on the basis of further restrictive amendments made to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance and promulgated by President Pervez Musharraf under emergency rule in November 2007. On top of this, in May 2008 the Supreme Court directed the media not to publish or telecast any report concerning judges without prior clearance.

Defenders of the independence of the judiciary and of rule of law at risk

At the very beginning of 2008, prominent lawyers and judges who played a key role in the movement for independence of judiciary, rule of law, freedom of press and restoration of democracy, such as Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Mr. Ali Ahmed Kurd, member of the Pakistan Bar Council, as well as Mr. Tariq Mehmood, former President of Supreme Court Bar Association, were still illegally maintained under house arrest. However, Messrs. Kurd and Mehmood were freed on February 1, 2008, while Mr. Ahsan was released on March 3, after the parliamentary elections. Some of these senior leaders had successfully pleaded the case of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who, along other judges, remained under house arrest until March 2008, when the newly sworn in Prime Minister ordered their release.

The two biggest parties after the 2008 election, the PPP and the PML-N failed to implement an agreement they had reached for the reinstatement of judges who were dismissed by General Musharraf after they refused to take an oath under the unconstitutional order of November 2007, mainly on account of reluctance by the PPP. The PPP argued that superior courts judges sacked by President Musharraf who would agree to a fresh oath would be reinstated, and many were indeed reinstated in August and September 2008. However, deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and some judges did not agree to afresh oath, arguing that this would have implied that their sacking was legitimate, even though President Musharraf had acknowledged that his actions in imposing the emergency were not legal. As of the end of 2008, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and some others had not yetbeen reinstated in their functions.

Security deficit for journalists denouncing human rights violations

In 2008, journalists denouncing human rights violations were targeted by non-State actors: for instance, on April 9, 2008, five journalists were attacked by masked men and their cameras snatched as they were attempting to cover the abuses committed amid incidents of violence that erupted in Karachi. Ms. Lala Rukh, camerawoman with the private television network Geo News, suffered a broken arm. The other journalists attacked were Messrs. Arshad Mahmood, reporter with KTN channel, Mohammad Junaid of Express Television, Sabir Mazhar of the Urdu daily newspaper, and Makhdoom Adil, of the Online news agency.3 Furthermore, Mr. Abdul Razzak Johra, a journalist for the Royal TV channel in Mianwali, Punjab region, was killed on November 3, after being dragged out of his home by six armed men, probably in connection with his reports on drug-related crimes.4 In both incidents, as of the end of 2008, no information could be obtained as to whether any investigation was conducted.

Attacks against human rights defenders in uncontrolled areas

In 2008, human rights defenders remained particularly targeted in Baluchistan, Kashmir, Waziristan or the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), where effective State control was insufficient or absent. For instance, on February 25, 2008, unknown individuals attacked the premises of the NGO Plan International in Mansehra and killed four people, injuring several others. Plan International is an organisation working on education, health and food issues as well as children's rights.5 This attack followed a series of others that occurred in previous years against several NGOs working in Baluchistan, NWFP, Punjab and Pakistan's tribal areas.6

Urgent Intervention issued by The Observatory in 20087

Name of human rights defenderViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Iftikhar Mohammad ChaudhryHouse arrest / HarassmentPress ReleaseMarch 7, 2008

1 See Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and below.

2 The number of incidents of enforced disappearances reported fell considerably after the new Government was sworn in. However, some cases were reported, mainly from Baluchistan. The recovery rate of disappeared people remained extremely slow and not even one single hearing was held in the petitions pending against the illegal practice with the Supreme Court throughout 2008. The last hearing was held before the November 2007 sacking of superior courts judges by General Musharraf.

3 See International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX).

4 See UNESCO Press Release, December 1, 2008.

5 See Plan International Press Release, February 25, 2008.

6 See Annual Report 2005.

7 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.

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