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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Pakistan

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Pakistan, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 27 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

The year 2007 was a culmination of the deteriorating situation of human rights in Pakistan: systematisation of forced disappearances; widespread attacks against civilian populations during military operations, particularly in the framework of the fight against terrorism conducted in the north-west province; repression of movements demanding recognition of minority identity, especially in Baluchistan; restrictions on freedom of the press; arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, etc. Furthermore, women and religious minorities (particularly the Ahmadi religious community) continued to be discriminated against by law. Moreover, women have continued to be victims of violence of all kinds (honour killings, rape, domestic violence, forced marriage).

The climax of this deterioration was the declaration, on November 3, 2007, of a state of emergency by President Musharraf, followed by a wave of arrests of journalists, lawyers, judges and political activists in the various provinces of the country.1

In a new drive to strengthen military control over the country, on November 10, 2007, General-President Pervez Musharraf promulgated an ordinance amending the Law on the Pakistani Army of 1952 and gave power to the military courts to prosecute civilians for a large number of offences under the Prevention of Anti-National Activities Act of 1974 and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997. Worse still, these amendments became effective with retroactive effect from January 1, 2003.

Additionally, Pakistani authorities have taken extremely severe measures against the media following the establishment of the state of emergency. Highly restrictive regulations for the written press and broadcast media were implemented, which prohibited reports on a number of so-called sensitive issues, such as suicide bombings, judicial procedures or matters "prejudicial to the ideology, security, sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan" or "prejudicing the Head of State, the army or institutions" with penalties including heavy fines, imprisonment and confiscation of equipment in the event of infringement.

Finally, even though the state of emergency was lifted on December 15, 2007, violations of human rights continued to be perpetrated. On December 27, 2007, the former Prime Minister and opponent Benazir Bhutto was attacked and killed as she was leaving a public meeting of her party. The attack also claimed the lives of more than fifteen people.

Attacks on the independence of judges and lawyers

In 2007, judges and lawyers were at the forefront of the repression against human rights defenders, especially those demanding respect for the independence of the judiciary, individual freedoms and fundamental rights.

On November 8, 2007, Ms. Gay J. Mc Dougall, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, expressed concern about "the detention and house arrest of leading judges, lawyers and human rights defenders. This includes [...] Asma Jahangir, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and other members of the Supreme Court who were also placed under house arrest when they refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Provisional Constitutional Order". The Chair further stated "we are alarmed that a detention order remains in place against Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders".

The crackdown began on March 9, 2007, when the President of the Supreme Court, Mr. Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, was removed from his position by President Musharraf for having asked the executive branch to hand over to justice the cases of disappeared persons and produce evidence concerning them. The suspension of the senior magistrate, both arbitrary and contrary to the Constitution, led to protests by judges, lawyers and the civil society.2 After a wave of popular pressure, the Head of the highest court was returned to his post in July 2007. However, on November 3, 2007, after refusing to swear allegiance to the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) issued the same day by President Musharraf, Mr. Chaudhry was arrested and placed under house arrest. In late 2007, Judge Chaudhry and his family remained illegally held under house arrest. Fifty-nine other judges were dismissed from their posts for having refused to swear allegiance to the PCO.

Many lawyers were also arrested after the declaration of the state of emergency, and some of them were reportedly tortured, detained in secret places and deprived of contact with their families. While most of them have since been released, Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan, President of the Bar of the Supreme Court, Mr. Muneer Malik and Mr. Tariq Mahmood, two former Presidents of the same Bar, and Mr. Ali Ahmed, former Vice-Chairman of the Bar Council of Pakistan, were still in custody at the end of 2007.

Attacks against members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in the framework of the state of emergency

In Pakistan, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is one of the most virulent NGOs in the denunciation of human rights violations in the country, which is why it is usually first in line for repression by authorities.

Thus, in the aftermath of the establishment of the state of emergency, police invested the HRCP office in Lahore and arrested 55 people, including Mr. Syed Igbal Haider and Mr. I. A. Rehman, respectively Secretary General and Executive Director of the HRCP. They were released on bail two days later, but the charges against them were not dropped.

On November 3, 2007, Ms. Asma Jahangir, President of the HRCP and United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, was placed under house arrest, while Ms. Hina Jilani, Vice-President of the HRCP and UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, was subjected to a detention order. These orders were lifted on November 16, 2007, following a large international mobilisation on their behalf.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 In this regard, on November 5, 2007, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Louise Arbour, "voiced alarm at the suspension of fundamental rights and imposition of a state of emergency in Pakistan", and by the fact that "leading judges, lawyers and political and human rights activists have been detained or placed under house arrest, including UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Asma Jahangir" (See UN Press Release, November 5, 2007). Similarly, on November 6, 2007, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General, called for "a return to democratic rule in Pakistan and the release of all detained political leaders and lawyers, as well as [...] Asma Jahangir" (See UN Press Release, November 6, 2007). Furthermore, the Presidency of the European Union expressed that the EU was "deeply concerned with the declaration of the state of emergency and suspension of Pakistan's constitution and fundamental liberties announced by President Musharraf on 3 November", "[...] particularly [...] by reports of numerous arrests of leaders of political parties, lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and representatives of civil society". The EU then "call[ed] on the Government of Pakistan to take urgent action to [...] release all political prisoners, including members of the judiciary, as well as Ms. Asma Jahangir [...]" (See Press Release 14670/1/07 REV 1 (Press 254), P 97/07, November 8, 2007).

2 On March 21, 2007, Mr. Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and Ms. Hina Jilani expressed "serious distress about recent events in Pakistan" after that "on 9 March 2007, President Pervez Musharraf suspended the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry [...]". The two experts said they were also "concerned about the excessive force used against peaceful demonstrators [who were denouncing this attack against the independence of the judiciary]" (See United Nations Press Release HR/07/42, March 21, 2007).

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