Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Pakistan, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9f914.html [accessed 20 February 2017]
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Dozens of prisoners of conscience were held; many opponents of the government charged with criminal offences may also have been prisoners of conscience. Torture remained widespread, reportedly leading to at least 70 deaths. At least four people "disappeared". Over a hundred people were killed, many of whom may have been victims of extrajudicial executions. At least 35 people were sentenced to death; one person was executed. Armed opposition groups committed human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings. In March, the Supreme Court curbed the authority of the government to appoint judges of the higher judiciary without consulting the relevant chief justices. Judicial appointments made earlier without consultation or by non-permanent chief justices became void. In November, President Farooq Leghari dismissed the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and dissolved the National Assembly on the grounds that a "sustained assault" on the judiciary, "corruption, nepotism and violations of rules", and widespread human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, had prevented the orderly functioning of the government. All provincial assemblies were subsequently also dissolved. Caretaker Prime Minister Meraj Khalid promised to ensure fair elections in February 1997. In Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the local Pakistan People's Party (PPP) won a majority in assembly elections in July. Thirty-six Kashmir National Alliance candidates who opposed accession of the region to Pakistan had been disqualified. The governmental Human Rights Cell was upgraded to a ministry in July. A tribunal was set up by presidential ordinance in March to investigate and redress violations of the rights of disadvantaged groups, including women, children and minorities. In March, Pakistan acceded to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, with a reservation stating that accession was "subject to the provisions of the Constitution". A committee reviewing laws disadvantaging women had not submitted recommendations by the end of the year. In April, the punishment of flogging was abolished, except when imposed as a mandatory punishment under Islamic provisions of the penal code. Flogging continued to be judicially imposed for drug offences but was apparently not carried out. Some legal reforms were initiated but not concluded by the end of the year. The Juvenile Offenders Bill, which banned the death penalty as well as flogging, judicial amputations and fettering of anyone below the age of 16, remained pending in the Senate. Its provisions fell considerably short of Pakistan's obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In June, the federal cabinet approved the abolition of the death penalty for women provided the penalty had not been imposed as a mandatory punishment under Islamic provisions of the penal code. The bill lapsed when the National Assembly was dissolved. The government appealed against some court judgments likely to contribute to human rights protection, including the Punjab High Court's abolition of the Special Courts for the Suppression of Terrorist Activities. A Sindh government appeal against the Sindh High Court's ban on fettering prisoners was dismissed by the Supreme Court in April, but later readmitted. In June, the Peshawar High Court held that public executions were incompatible with the constitutionally guaranteed dignity of human beings. Some 120 members of the Ahmadiyya community were charged with religious offences. The charges included blasphemy, which carries the mandatory death penalty. At the end of the year, 2,589 Ahmadis had such charges pending against them. Ahmadis charged with blasphemy were often denied bail. Riaz Ahmed Chowdhury, from Mianwali in Punjab, and his son and two nephews, had been detained without trial since their arrest for alleged blasphemy in November 1993. Their bail applications, which had been rejected by the sessions court and the Lahore High Court, had been pending in the Supreme Court since 1994. Ayub Masih, a Christian from Arifwala, Punjab Province, was arrested in October on charges of blasphemy after quarrelling with a Muslim neighbour. Dozens of political activists were held incommunicado and in unacknowledged places of detention. Dr Rahim Solangi and Punhal Sario of the Sindh Taraqqi Passand Party were arrested on criminal charges in late June in Hyderabad, Sindh Province. After their remand lapsed, their whereabouts became unknown. Acting on a habeas corpus petition, a high court bailiff found them on 28 August in private police quarters in Tando Allayar, along with 23 other detainees. Their detention had not been recorded. Police claimed that they had been arrested the previous day. Before they could be released, they were transferred to Jamshoro police station on a "blind" First Information Report (a criminal complaint which does not name any suspect). They were later remanded on a series of "blind" First Information Reports to other police stations in Sindh, and in October were again remanded to Hyderabad Central Jail. No action was taken against those responsible for their arbitrary and unacknowledged detention witnessed by high court staff. Criminal charges, intended to punish or intimidate, were arbitrarily brought against political opponents and journalists who exposed human rights violations. M.H. Khan of the daily newspaper Dawn reported that prisoners in Hyderabad Central Jail were unlawfully held in iron bar fetters. The authorities first denied the allegations, then filed charges of "forgery and cheating" against the journalist. Following an inquiry, the jail superintendent was suspended, but charges against M.H. Khan were not withdrawn. Sedition charges against journalist Zafaryab Ahmed (see Amnesty International Report 1996) were also still pending. Torture, including rape, in police and paramilitary custody was widespread and systematic, leading to at least 70 deaths. In April, Huzur Bux was detained along with four other men in Dajal, Rajanpur district, on charges of criminal abetment. Police stripped him naked, pierced a metal ring through his nose and dragged him through the streets. Huzur Bux was released after 10 days following the intervention of influential local people. A police officer told a human rights investigator examining the case that he would have staged an "encounter" killing (a killing in a supposed gun-battle with police) if he had expected intervention. No official investigation was known to have taken place. Niaz Jatoi, a labourer, was arrested on 12 February by police in Tando Allayar, Sindh Province. When his family was unable to raise the bribe demanded by police for his release, he was transferred to the Criminal Investigation Agency centre in Hyderabad where his brother saw him. Niaz Jatoi died there on 29 February. Police claimed that he was a "bandit" killed in a shoot-out with police and that he had never been arrested. No investigation took place into the death. Retired government servant Zameer Ansari, his wife and two children "disappeared" from their home in Islamabad in May. They were allegedly arrested by an intelligence agency. Over one hundred people were killed, many of whom may have been victims of extrajudicial executions. Most were claimed by the authorities to be the result of deaths in "encounters" with police. In June, police opened fire on a demonstration by members of Jamaat-i-Islami, Society of Islam, in Rawalpindi, apparently deliberately killing three demonstrators. An inquiry was set up but its results were not made public. In March, Mohammad Naeem, a member of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, Refugees National Movement, and his associate, Amjad Beg, were shot dead by paramilitary Rangers in Amjad Beg's house in Karachi. The Rangers claimed they had fired in self-defence, but members of the Beg family who were present at the time said that Mohammad Naeem had hidden behind a cabinet and was shot dead at point-blank range, and that Amjad Beg was arrested and then shot dead outside the house. The federal cabinet reportedly expressed its "satisfaction" with the death of the two men. Mir Murtaza Bhutto, leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (Shaheed Bhutto) and brother of Benazir Bhutto, and seven associates were apparently extrajudicially executed by police in Karachi in September. Police stated that they had fired in self-defence but Murtaza Bhutto and Ashiq Jatoi were reportedly unarmed when shot dead in their car. Two police officers were slightly injured and one of the injuries was later found to be self-inflicted. A judicial inquiry under a Supreme Court judge began investigating the deaths, but it had not concluded by the end of the year. The perpetrators of human rights violations enjoyed a high degree of impunity. In August, Minister for Human Rights Iqbal Haider said that 136 alleged extrajudicial killings in Karachi were under investigation and that some 500 Karachi police officers had been dismissed and a few had been prosecuted for "misconduct". However, criminal charges were rarely brought and no law enforcement personnel were known to have been convicted. Inquiries rarely concluded, or if they did, their findings were not made public. More than 35 people were sentenced to death for murder. Seven of these sentences were passed by Special Courts for the Suppression of Terrorist Activities, whose procedures did not meet international standards for fair trial. At least one man was executed. Arshad Jamil, sentenced to death by court-martial in 1992 for the killing of nine villagers in Tando Bahawal (see Amnesty International report 1993), was hanged in October after his appeal to the Supreme Court failed. Two Shia Afghan refugees, Qambar Ali and Barat Ali, sentenced to death for blasphemy in January 1995 in Peshawar for commissioning the printing of pictures of Prophet Mohammed, were acquitted on appeal in May and released. They remained in hiding after receiving death threats from Islamists who regarded them as blasphemers. Dozens of people were deliberately and arbitrarily killed by armed opposition groups on account of their ethnic or religious identity. Armed Shia and Sunni groups shot dead several dozen members of each other's community. In February, Amnesty International issued a report, Pakistan: Human rights crisis in Karachi, which documented hundreds of cases of arbitrary detention, torture, deaths in custody, extrajudicial executions and "disappearances" reportedly carried out by law enforcement personnel in Karachi, as well as reports of torture, hostage-taking and killings by armed opposition groups. In May, an Amnesty International delegation visited Pakistan for discussions on a wide range of concerns; the delegation expressed its dismay at the lack of political will to tackle key problems such as impunity. By the time of the government's dismissal, Amnesty International had received no response to the 127 cases of deaths in custody and possible extrajudicial executions which it had raised with the authorities. In September, Amnesty International issued a report, Pakistan: The death penalty, appealing for the abolition of the death penalty and commutation of all death sentences. In a report published in October, Pakistan: Journalists harassed for exposing abuses, Amnesty International documented the harassment of journalists uncovering human rights abuses. Following the dismissal of the government of Benazir Bhutto, Amnesty International urged the interim government to act on the President's acknowledgment of massive human rights violations and to tackle the problem of impunity.