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Pakistan: Release Judges, Lawyers and Activists From Arbitrary Detention
(New York, November 8, 2007) – The Pakistan government should immediately release thousands of lawyers and opposition activists detained across the country in a crackdown after military ruler General Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed a state of emergency on November 3, Human Rights Watch said today.
Since November 3, the police have violently suppressed peaceful protests by lawyers across Pakistan. Protests have taken place in the federal capital, Islamabad, the four provincial capital cities of Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta, and in the city of Multan in southern Punjab. In each city, police have beaten protestors with batons and used tear gas to disperse them.
Most of those detained are being held without charge. Hundreds of lawyers are being held under terrorism charges without any factual basis. Treason charges also have been instituted against some. Almost two-thirds of Pakistan’s senior judges remain under house arrest.
“While Musharraf is charging lawyers fighting for the rule of law as ‘terrorists,’ armed militants are increasing their stranglehold over northwestern Pakistan,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By destabilizing the country with his naked power grab, Musharraf has alienated moderates and played into the hands of extremists. There can be no meaningful counterterrorism efforts until Musharraf restores constitutional rule and restores the judiciary.”
Human Rights Watch expressed particular concern about the fate of the lawyers leading the movement for judicial independence that began on March 9, 2007, when Musharraf first tried to oust Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. This group includes: Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association; Ahsan’s predecessor Munir Malik; retired Justice Tariq Mehmood; and, Ali Ahmed Kurd, a lawyer from Balochistan who has “disappeared” since he was allegedly picked up by security forces on November 3. While Ahsan is being held in solitary confinement in Rawalpindi Jail, the families and lawyers of the other three have not heard from nor been given access to them since they were detained. Read More