(This report covers the period January-December 1997) Hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were detained without charge or trial; others received unfair trials. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be widespread, leading to some 35 deaths in custody. At least two people were flogged. At least 50 possible extrajudicial executions were reported. At least 88 people were sentenced to death and at least six were executed. Armed opposition groups were responsible for deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians. In general elections in February, the Pakistan Muslim League, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, obtained a two-thirds majority. Parliament amended the Constitution in April to remove the president's powers to dissolve parliament and dismiss elected governments, and again in July to curtail parliamentarians' right to vote against party policy. In December Rafiq Tarar was elected President, following the resignation of Farooq Leghari. In Punjab province some 200 people were killed in sectarian violence between the majority Sunni and the minority Shia communities. In Sindh province, scores of people were injured and about 400 killed in political and ethnically-motivated violence. The government responded with mass arbitrary arrests and detentions. In August parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism Act which gave police sweeping powers to use lethal force against anyone "committing, or believed to be about to commit, a terrorist offence" and established special courts to summarily try people charged with "terrorist" offences. The special courts, set up in Sindh and Punjab, suspend several legal safeguards available in regular proceedings; trials before such courts must conclude within seven days. At the end of the year several petitions challenging the constitutionality of the new courts were pending in the Supreme Court and the four high courts; the higher judiciary had explicitly warned against instituting a new parallel court system. Existing Special Courts for the Suppression of Terrorist Activities were closed in Sindh and Punjab provinces and thousands of pending cases were transferred to the new courts. In February police were reportedly involved in an attack by several hundred Muslims on a Christian community in Shantinagar, Punjab province, following rumours that some Christians had desecrated the Quran. One man was killed in the attack and over 300 homes were burned down. The incident was apparently instigated by police in retaliation for the suspension of three police officers disciplined after being found guilty of desecrating the Bible in January. A judicial inquiry submitted its report to the government in July, but it was not made public. In June the Prime Minister announced that a judicial inquiry under a Supreme Court judge was to investigate alleged extrajudicial executions committed in Karachi under the previous government; it had not submitted its findings by the end of the year. A senate committee, authorized to trace 28 members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement who allegedly "disappeared" in 1995 and 1996, questioned police and examined police records but failed to trace them. In July the Chief Justice initiated hearings into the sectarian and politically motivated killings in Karachi and in Punjab province, under the Supreme Court's powers to investigate questions of fundamental rights which are of public importance In August the Commission of Inquiry for Women set up in 1994 submitted its recommendations to the government. These included the repeal of the Zina law relating to "unlawful fornication", which contravenes constitutional safeguards and provisions of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (the Women's Convention) ratified by Pakistan in 1996. However, no action to implement these recommendations was known to have been taken. At least 32 members of the Ahmadiyya community were charged with religious offences during the year, including two who were charged with blasphemy under section 295-c of the Pakistan Penal Code which carries a mandatory death sentence. They were prisoners of conscience. Riaz Ahmed Chowdhury and his three relatives from Mianwali in Punjab province (see Amnesty International Report1997), who were detained in November 1993 and charged with blasphemy, continued to be held without trial. Their bail application had been pending in the Supreme Court since 1994 In September a 16-year-old Ahmadi boy from Sanghar district, Sindh province, was charged with blasphemy for reciting Muslim words of belief. He was also charged with possessing a gun, and consequently his case was to be tried by a special anti-terrorist court. He went into hiding before he could be arrested The trial of Ayub Masih, a Christian, on blasphemy charges (see Amnesty International Report 1997) was continuing at the end of the year. He escaped unhurt when attackers shot at him in Sahiwal court in November. Dozens of prisoners of conscience were held on false charges or without charge or trial, often incommunicado and in undeclared places of detention. During a surprise visit to a Shikarpur police station in July, a Sindh provincial minister found 11 detainees held in an adjacent mosque, clamped in bar fetters. They had not been charged and their arrest had not been recorded Throughout the year police arbitrarily detained hundreds of people without charge, usually for short periods. In July police arrested and detained for several days some 175 students from a Shia religious school in Lahore where a criminal suspect was believed to be hiding. In Sindh province, following the deliberate and arbitrary killing in July of Shahid Hamid, director of the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation, over 2,000 people, including workers for all the opposition parties, were arrested. Most were released after a few hours or days. Dozens of people were held under preventive detention provisions, apparently because criminal charges could not be framed against them. In July the Lahore High Court declared the detention of Tahir Khan Niazi under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance of 1960 to be unlawful, stating that a person could not be detained under preventive detention laws solely on the likelihood that a case would be registered against them. Tahir Khan Niazi had been detained since May, despite having obtained pre-arrest bail, and was interrogated by the Federal Investigation Agency in its undeclared detention centre in Islamabad. A corruption charge was being prepared against him but had not been finalized when he was arrested. Scores of political prisoners were denied fair trials and legal safeguards were often ignored. Humayun Far, a journalist, was arrested in June. Local police denied holding him but, during the hearing of a habeas corpus petition filed by his son before the Lahore High Court, state representatives admitted that he was being detained by military intelligence, allegedly for anti-state activities. Despite court orders, Humayun Far was not brought before the court, nor were charges against him made known to his family. In July the court dismissed the petition when it was told that Humayun Far was already being tried in camera by court martial for espionage. In September Humayun Far was sentenced to five years' imprisonment by a military court for anti-state activities. On 2 October he was transferred to hospital with hepatitis, where he was held in fetters despite the fact that he was in a coma. He was unconditionally released on 7 October. Torture, including rape, and ill-treatment in police custody continued to be widespread, leading to at least 35 deaths. In July a 15-year-old girl was reportedly raped by three police officers in Mithi, Sindh province. Although a complaint was filed, police delayed arrest of the alleged perpetrators who remained at liberty on pre-arrest bail at the end of the year. In August, police in Faisalabad reportedly cut off the tongue of a criminal suspect, Ghulam Murtaza, who refused to pay a bribe. Police claimed that he had maimed himself to escape punishment. Detainees continued to be placed in iron leg-fetters when brought to court in some parts of the country. Chanesar Palari died in custody at Bhitai Nagar police station in Hyderabad in August, allegedly after torture. He and seven of his relatives had been detained by police officers nine days earlier and robbed of a large amount of money. There were numerous burns on his body and the skin on his hands had peeled off. Five days after his death, another detainee, Finyas Masih, died after allegedly being tortured in the same police station. Complaints against the police were registered in both cases but all the accused remained free on bail. The family of Chanesar Palari agreed a compromise with the accused in October and the charges were dropped. In May, 14-year-old Famidullah and Zaman Shah were publicly flogged in Bara Bazaar in Khyber Agency after a tribal council found them guilty of sexual intercourse. The area has its own legal and judicial system. Although flogging is banned for all offences except for those for which it is a mandatory punishment under Islamic provisions of the penal code, dozens of people convicted of drug offences in various parts of the country were sentenced to flogging. It was not known if these punishments were carried out. The whereabouts of four members of the Ansari family who "disappeared" in May 1996 remained unknown as no further steps were taken by the authorities to trace them (see Amnesty International Report 1997). At least 50 possible extrajudicial executions were reported. In most cases the authorities claimed that the victims had died in exchanges of fire with police. In June, 17-year-old Yar Mohammad Makrani was reportedly shot dead in Tando Jam, Sindh province, by paramilitary Shahbaz Rangers who opened fire on local people when they refused to hand over criminal suspects. Three Ranger personnel were charged with murder, but no one had been arrested by the end of the year. A tribunal investigating the killing of Mir Murtaza Bhutto and his associates (see Amnesty International Report 1997) said in June that the killings had been extrajudicial and presupposed clearance from high-level political authorities. In July Asif Zardari, husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and 18 former officials were charged with murder and several were arrested. The trial was continuing at the end of the year. At least 88 people were sentenced to death, most for murder after summary trials by special courts. In April, the death penalty was extended to the offence of gang-rape. Prime Minister Sharif announced that convicted rapists would be hanged in front of the victims' homes. At least six people were executed, including Shamoun Masih, sentenced to death for a murder committed in 1988 when he was only 14 years old. The execution of Maqsud Ahmad, sentenced to death for a murder committed in 1989 to which two other men had confessed, was stayed one day before the scheduled date, pending a review by the Supreme Court. The review had not been completed by the end of the year In September, a tribal jirga (council) in Hyderabad imposed "death sentences" on a newly-wed couple for the alleged abduction of the bride by the groom and executed them. Police filed murder charges against the jirga members. Members of opposition groups committed dozens of human rights abuses. In Punjab province, civilians were victims of deliberate and arbitrary killings by members of religious groups. Seven lawyers were deliberately killed in June alone. Places of worship were indiscriminately attacked by members of religious groups leading to the deaths of dozens of men, women and children. Retired Lahore High Court judge Arif Iqbal Bhatti was shot dead by unidentified members of religious groups in October. His death was believed to be linked to his role in the acquittal in 1995 of Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy (see Amnesty International Report 1996). In Sindh province, prominent citizens, including administrators and relatives of government officials, were killed or injured in deliberate attacks. In August members of the Sindh National Front attacked and injured journalist Shakeel Naich of the Awami Awaz newspaper apparently because they objected to his reports. In March Amnesty International published a report, Pakistan: Women's human rights remain a dead letter, highlighting the government's failure to end discrimination against women in law or practice one year after ratification of the UN Women's Convention. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pakistan's creation in August, Amnesty International published a report, Pakistan: Time to take human rights seriously, and urged the new government to commit itself to the promotion and protection of the range of fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. In a report published in October, Pakistan: Legalizing the impermissible the new anti-terrorism law, Amnesty International urged the government not to suspend legal safeguards in its pursuit of law and order and to repeal the act which facilitates police abuse and unfair trials
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