Key freedoms are under relentless attack in Pakistan, with the authorities cracking down on dissent, whether it takes place on the streets, on television news channels, in newspaper columns, or on social media
Thursday, June 14, 2018
For the past two days, there have been reports of protests by women members of the former ruling PML-N in Lahore over the priority list submitted by the party leadership to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for election on the reserved women seats in the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly. A closer look at the official list carrying signatures of party president Shahbaz Sharif shows that their concerns seem genuine.
The two lists — for the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly — carry names of the same faces that were nominated previously, with some little adjustment in the priority numbers.
Three members of the family of former deputy speaker Chaudhry Jaffar Iqbal have been accommodated by the party on the list for the National Assembly. His daughter Zeb Jafar’s name is at number 11, his niece Maiza Hameed is at number 15 and his wife Begum Ishrat Ashraf has been accommodated at number 24 on the list of 27. In order to ensure Begum Ishrat Ashraf’s entry to the legislature, the party has placed her name at number four on the list of the women on the reserved seats of the Punjab Assembly.
Similarly, the PML-N leadership has nominated Rida Khan, the daughter of party’s information secretary and Senator Mushahidullah Khan, for a National Assembly seat again. However, her name is at number 18 on the list. The party has nominated Kiran Dar, the sister of a party member in the Kashmir Legislative Assembly, Nasir Dar. Ms Dar has previously served as an MPA in the Punjab Assembly.
The PML-N has also promoted former finance minister of Punjab Ayesha Ghous Pasha by nominating her for a National Assembly seat. Ayesha is the wife of economist Hafeez Pasha, who had served as an economic adviser to Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and PML-N governments in the past. While there is resentment within party ranks over the nomination of close relatives of senior male party leaders, the exclusion of former minister for information technology Anusha Rehman, chairperson of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) Marvi Memon and former minister of state Laila Khan has surprised many.
“The omission of Anusha Rehman’s name from the list was really a big surprise for me,” said one of the applicants for the reserved women seats, recalling a time when in 2013, Ms Rehman was the “sole authority” on the issue of allocating party tickets to women.
According to sources, Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had a greater role, this time around, in deciding the nomination of women candidates on reserved seats. Apparently it was on her recommendation that Ms Rehman’s name had been dropped, they said.
Sources shared that the former Punjab chief minister was not in favour of nominating Ms Rehman again due to her alleged role in the controversy over Namoos-i-Risalat which surfaced last year after the passage of the Elections Act 2017. As for Laila Khan’s nomination being dropped, the sources said that the party leadership was not happy that she had gotten herself added to the federal cabinet of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi by using her connections.
The sources shared that Sharif brothers had been taken aback over former PM Abbasi’s decision to nominate Ms Khan to his cabinet without obtaining their consent. They added that Mr Abbasi had told the Sharifs that he had been contacted by a member of the Sharif family, asking him to include Ms Khan to the cabinet. According to the sources, the party leadership was also unhappy with Marvi Memon as she had posted some controversial tweets about the party’s policies. However, they said, she still had a chance to get nominated to the reserved seats for women from Sindh, which the party has not disclosed so far.
The Pakistani authorities must end the current crackdown on human rights defenders, activists, journalists and other members of the civil society and ensure that human rights are fully respected and protected in the lead up to next month’s general elections, Amnesty International said today.
On 25 July 2018, in general elections held across the country, Pakistanis will elect their next civilian government. Amnesty International is alarmed by the ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, attacks on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
“Key freedoms are under relentless attack in Pakistan, with the authorities cracking down on dissent, whether it takes place on the streets, on television news channels, in newspaper columns, or on social media,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy Director for South Asia at Amnesty International.
Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of 37 activists currently detained at the overcrowded and violent Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi for participating in the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM)’s peaceful protests, which called for an end to extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations.
The 37 activists, who include several students due to sit their exams soon, were charged with “sedition” – under colonial-era laws that are inconsistent and incompatible with international standards – and had their request for bail rejected. The case has now been referred to an anti-terrorism court.
“Peaceful protest is a right protected by international human rights law and the Pakistani Constitution. The charge of sedition has no place in a modern, rights-respecting society, and peaceful students should never be tried in an anti-terrorism court. The 37 activists must be released immediately and unconditionally, as they are detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” said Dinushika Dissanayake.
Amnesty International is also deeply concerned by the hours-long arbitrary detention of Gul Bukhari in Lahore in the early hours of 6 June 2018.
Gul Bukhari, a British-Pakistani columnist and activist, who has been a critic of the Pakistani military and a supporter of the PTM’s movement for constitutional rights, was en route to a television news station when, according to an eyewitness, the car she was traveling in was suddenly surrounded by multiple vehicles. Gul Bukhari returned home a few hours later.
Gul Bukhari’s detention came a day after the military’s chief spokesman complained at a press conference that social media users are criticizing “the state”. The press conference – during which the military’s chief spokesman highlighted several social media accounts of bloggers, journalists, activists and human rights defenders - has raised fears that Pakistanis will now be targeted for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression.
On 7 June 2018, speaking at a meeting of the All Pakistan Newspaper Society in Islamabad, Hameed Haroon, the CEO of the respected Dawn Media Group warned that Pakistan is “encountering the most dangerous attack” on the right to freedom of expression."
Dawn has seen its circulation heavily disrupted in the country while the newspaper has come under intense pressure for its independent editorial policy. News agents have been warned against stocking the newspaper and street vendors have been harassed and intimidated for selling it.
Similar pressure has been applied on the Jang media group. Over recent weeks, several columnists who regularly write for the Jang group’s English-language newspaper, The News, said the newspaper was unable to publish their articles because of fear of official reprisals.
“Pakistan once proudly boasted a lively and independent media. This, sadly, has stopped being the case. People can no longer speak or write freely,” said Dinushika Dissanayake.
Amnesty International has urged Pakistan to end the "current crackdown" on human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and members of civil society ahead of next month’s general elections.
In a June 14 statement, the London-based rights watchdog denounced the “ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, attacks on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” in the lead up to the July 25 polls.
The vote comes at a time of growing political instability, with the ruling PML-N party accusing the military of interfering in politics. The army denies involvement in politics.
“Key freedoms are under relentless attack in Pakistan, with the authorities cracking down on dissent, whether it takes place on the streets, on television news channels, in newspaper columns, or on social media,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, deputy director for South Asia at Amnesty.
The group called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of 37 activists it said were currently detained in the city of Rawalpindi for participating in peaceful protests against extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations.
Amnesty said it was also “deeply concerned by the hours-long arbitrary detention” of British-Pakistani journalist and rights activist Gul Bukhari earlier this month.
Bukhari, who has been a critic of the Pakistani military, was abducted in the eastern city of Lahore on June 6 and held for several hours by unknown men before being freed, her family and colleagues said.
Pakistan's army denied it was involved in the abduction, which occurred a day after a military spokesman warned at a press conference that it is monitoring citizens who criticize Pakistan, amid a growing crackdown on free speech in the country.
Amnesty also said that Dawn has seen its circulation “heavily disrupted in the country while the newspaper has come under intense pressure for its independent editorial policy.”
“Similar pressure has been applied on the Jang media group,” it added.
“Pakistan once proudly boasted a lively and independent media. This, sadly, has stopped being the case. People can no longer speak or write freely,” Dissanayake lamented.
A U.S. drone strike has targeted the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in an Afghan province near the border with Pakistan, a U.S. military official confirmed to VOA. Unconfirmed reports from locals Thursday said Mullah Fazlullah has been killed.
The U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the strike late Wednesday targeted Fazlullah, the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
“U.S. forces conducted a counterterrorism strike June 13 in Kunar province, close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which targeted a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization,” a spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Army Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, also told VOA Thursday, without specifying that Fazlullah was the target.
Pentagon officials declined to comment at this time on whether the strike was successful.
U.S. officials said Fazlullah directed numerous high-profile attacks against U.S. and Pakistani targets since he was appointed the group’s leader in 2013, such as the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that killed 151 people, including more than 130 children.
The U.S. also said Fazlullah ordered the 2012 attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai, who had been advocating for the right of girls to have access to an education.
The U.S. State Department offered a $5 million reward for Fazlullah in March, the same month Pakistani sources said his son was killed in a U.S. drone strike on a TTP training facility.
The strike comes amid a cease-fire between the Afghan Taliban and government security forces to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO-led Resolute Support, said the United States would adhere to the cease-fire announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, which did not include U.S. counterterrorism attacks on other terror groups.
“As previously stated, the cease-fire does not include U.S. counterterrorism efforts against IS-K, al-Qaida, and other regional and international terrorist groups, or the inherent right of U.S. and international forces to defend ourselves if attacked,” O'Donnell told VOA.