anniversary of military coup
Text of the letter written by the Executive Director, Asia
Rights Watch, to Pervez Musharraf, the Junta ruler
of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
12, 2003 will mark the fourth anniversary of the military coup
that brought you (General Musharraf) to power. Since the 1999 coup,
Human Rights Watch has monitored the suppression of civil liberties
and the progressive undermining of civilian institutions in
Rights Watch is concerned that in the years since the coup, the
Pakistani government has systematically violated the fundamental
rights of members of the political opposition and former government
officials. It has harassed, threatened, and arbitrarily arrested
them. Many have been detained without charge, mistreated and
tortured, and otherwise denied their basic due process rights. The
government has removed independent judges from the higher courts,
banned anti-government public rallies and demonstrations, and
rendered political parties all but powerless. In addition, the last
four years have also witnessed the rise of extremist political
activity and an increase in sectarian killings.
Meanwhile, your involvement with the United States in its war on
terror has been characterized by a disregard for the due process
rights of suspects. Arbitrary arrests and detentions, apparently
with the support of U.S. authorities in Pakistan, have taken place
with depressing regularity.
The rule of law is a critical element in the promotion and
protection of human rights. Your failure to institute genuine and
periodic elections as required by international law has become an
important symbol of the lack of rule of law in Pakistan. We urge you
to provide a timetable and demonstrate a commitment to genuine,
pluralistic elections at the earliest possible date. October 12
would provide an excellent opportunity to make such a commitment.
Solutions to many of the human rights problems discussed below
depend, at least in part, on the creation of a duly constituted
and Mistreatment of Political Opponents and Journalists
Torture is routinely used in Pakistan, both to obtain confessions in
criminal cases and against political opponents. Most acts of torture
committed by civilian law enforcement agencies are usually
issue-specific and aimed at producing a confession during the course
of a criminal investigation. By contrast, acts of torture by
military agencies primarily serve the purpose of
"punishing" an errant politician, political activist or
journalist. Torture by the military usually takes place after the
victim has been abducted;
the purpose is to frighten the victim into changing his political
stance or loyalties or at the very least to stop him from being
critical of the military authorities. The victim is often let go on
the understanding that if he fails to behave, another further
abduction and mistreatment will follow. In this manner, the victim
can be kept in a state of fear often for several years.
A recent example is the case of Rasheed Azam, a journalist and
political activist from Khuzdar in Balochistan province. Azam, a
reporter for the local newspapers Intikhab and Asap and a member of
the organizing committee of the Balochistan National Party, has been
in police custody since August 15, 2002. Azam communicated to Human
Rights Watch through intermediaries that he has been taken three
times to the Khuzdar military cantonment where he alleges he was
abused and tortured, including by being beaten while he was hung
upside down and through sleep deprivation.
Azam is being held on baseless claims that he committed sedition.
According to the First Information Report of the local police, Azam
was arrested in Quetta on the basis of a report "received from
a sensitive department" that he had distributed a poster with a
photograph of Pakistan army personnel beating a crowd of Baloch
youth. The report goes on to state that such "sedition"
against the army "is an offense of grave nature." However,
the report fails to mention the date, time or place the alleged
"crime" was committed, nor does it name the
"sensitive department" in question or any eyewitnesses
that saw the "offense" being perpetrated. Rasheed Azam
remains in jail to date as his bail application was rejected by the
district judge on the grounds that the case against the accused was
credible. His colleagues have filed a bail application in the
Balochistan High Court that awaits hearing.
Another case of detention and torture is of Rana Sanaullah Khan, a
member of the suspended Punjab provincial assembly. Sanaullah was
arrested under the sedition law for criticizing the military
government in November 1999. According to Sanaullah, he was whipped,
beaten, held incommunicado, and interrogated for a week in police
custody before eventually being released on bail. In October 2002,
Sanaullah was re-elected to the Punjab Assembly and elected deputy
leader of the opposition. On March 8, 2003, heavily armed men, some
of whom wore police uniforms, abducted him.
According to Sanaullah:
was handcuffed and, with my face covered with a cloth, I was
driven to the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] office where I was
tortured for three or four hours. They were using some sharp-edged
weapon with which they would cut open my skin and then rub some
sort of chemical in the wound. I felt as if I was on fire every
time they did that. I have 22 such injuries on my body. Later, I
was pushed into a car and thrown on a service lane along the
motorway some 20 kilometers from Faisalabad.
explained to Human Rights Watch that he remains under pressure from
the government and continues to receive sporadic threats.
The use of such forms of arbitrary detention and torture must end.
Perpetrators of the torture of Azam, Sanaullah and others must be
removed from the country's security forces and prosecuted.
to Civilian Rule & the Legal Framework Order
Your administration has unilaterally imposed a series of
far-reaching amendments to the Pakistan constitution that
dramatically strengthen the power of the presidency, formalize the
role of the army in governance, and diminish the authority of
The amendments under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) significantly
curb freedom of association and the freedom of individuals to stand
for elected office. Opposition legislators who have spoken to Human
Rights Watch have reportedly been beaten, harassed, and subjected to
blackmail for voicing opposition to these arbitrary changes to the
Indeed, in the months preceding Pakistan's October 2002
parliamentary elections, your administration took measures that all
but ensured a military-controlled government. In addition to the
constitutional amendments under the LFO, these included an April
2002 referendum that extended your presidential term for five years
and restrictions on political party activities. Independent
observers reported extensive fraud and coercion during voting for
the referendum and widespread poll-rigging and harassment of
candidates preceding the parliamentary elections. It is worth
pointing out that these measures have served to suppress the kind of
moderate voices necessary for Pakistan to develop into a
pluralistic, rights-respecting society.
Subsequent to the elections, your administration has chosen to
sideline the mainstream political opposition and negotiate on the
LFO only with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of
religious political parties that have historically enjoyed close
links with the Pakistan military. However, even these negotiations
broke down recently over your administration's refusal to offer a
firm date by which you would resign from your military position in
exchange for their support for your running for president of
Pakistan in a civilian capacity.
Taken together, the amendments under the LFO have ensured that
ostensibly civilian governments at the federal and provincial level
are effectively subordinate to and even exist at the discretion of
the president and the military. In spite of this, the opposition in
the federal parliament has made it clear that it does not recognize
the validity of the constitution as arbitrarily amended by your
administration. We urge you to recognize the troubling implications
of the LFO and the resulting constitutional crisis for credible
civilian governance in Pakistan and to rescind the LFO.
War on Terror
The conduct of the war on terror in Pakistan has raised serious
questions about the commitment of Pakistan to internationally and
domestically recognized standards of due process.
Perhaps the most high profile example of the failure of due process
occurred in December 2000 when Pakistani security forces, allegedly
accompanied by officials of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI), raided a house in Lahore and arrested nine individuals. The
group included several well-known doctors. While your government
denies the presence of FBI personnel at the arrest, eyewitness
accounts provided to Human Rights Watch say that Caucasian men with
American accents accompanied the Pakistani officials and took charge
of the operation once they had gained entry to the premises. Only
several weeks after the arrests did the government admit that the
doctors had been detained under the Security Act for alleged links
with Al-Qaeda. Subsequently, the Pakistan government repeatedly
ignored orders by the Lahore High Court to produce the detainees in
court. Instead, the detainees are currently on trial by an
"anti-terrorism" court in Lahore, a process that lacks
basic procedural safeguards for a fair trial.
In another incident, Dr. Amir Aziz, a Lahore-based orthopedic
surgeon who has reportedly provided treatment to members of the
Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership, was arrested on October 21 2002.
His family reported that he had been arrested by ISI officials
accompanied by Americans whom they took to be FBI agents. Without
being presented a legal basis for his arrest, Dr. Aziz was released
several days later.
The cases mentioned above are illustrative of a pattern of due
process violations occurring across Pakistan in the name of the war
on terror. Human Rights Watch urged Pakistani authorities to
scrupulously follow international due process standards in
prosecuting in cases of alleged terror suspects.
Discrimination Against and Mistreatment of Women and Religious
Inaction on the Hudood Laws persists despite the government-run
National Commission for Status of Women calling for repeal of the
Hudood Ordinance on the grounds that it "makes a mockery of
Islamic justice" and is "not based on Islamic
injunctions." This, despite the outcry in Pakistan and
internationally, over cases such as the tribal "jirga"
ordered gang-rape of Mukhtaran Bibi in Punjab and the sentencing to
death by stoning of Zafran Bibi on grounds of adultery. Human Rights
Watch has monitored these and other cases involving abuses under the
Hudood Laws. Informed estimates suggest that over 210,000 cases
under the Hudood laws are under process in Pakistan's legal system
Under Pakistan's existing Hudood Ordinance, a woman who has been
raped and wants the state to prosecute her case must have four
Muslim men testify that they witnessed the assault. In the absence
of these male witnesses, the rape victim has no case. Equally
alarming, if a woman cannot prove the rape allegation she runs a
very high risk of being charged with fornication or adultery, the
criminal penalty for which is either a long prison sentence,
including public whipping, or, though rare, death by stoning. The
testimony of women carries half the weight of a man's testimony
under this ordinance.
Further, the Qisas (retribution) and Diyat (compensation) Ordinance
makes it possible for crimes of honor (such as the killing of women
in the name of honor) to be pardoned by relatives of the victim and
assesses monetary compensation for female victims at half the rate
of male victims.
These are just part of a set of "Islamic" penal laws
introduced by the former military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq in 1979.
While your administration has publicly warned against this kind of
extremism, these warnings have failed to translate into concrete
legal measures to protect the basic rights of women in conformity
with international norms.
Discrimination and persecution on grounds of religion continues, and
an increasing number of blasphemy cases continue to be registered.
The Ahmadi community in particular has been the target of religious
extremists and Human Rights Watch has followed several cases where
members of this community have been subject to discrimination, not
just at the hands of religious extremists but the Pakistani police
and military authorities as well.
Information provided by the Ahmadi community and authenticated by
HRW indicates that during 2002-3 at least ten Ahmadis were charged
under various provisions of the Blasphemy Law. Mushtaq Ahmed Saggon
and Waris Khan were charged for "preaching" and a case was
registered against "Abdul Nasir and three others" for
distributing "objectionable literature." Four Ahmadis were
accused of preparing to build a "place of worship." (Ahmadis
can be charged under the Blasphemy Law for using the term
"mosque" to describe their places of worship.) In 2002 at
least three members of the Ahmadi community were convicted under the
blasphemy law. One was subsequently acquitted on appeal. However,
Nazir Ahmed and Allah Rakhio were awarded life imprisonment by an
Anti-Terrorist Court on charges of "desecrating the Quran"
and "demolishing a mosque."
In addition, at least six others were sentenced under the Blasphemy
Law in 2002. Of these four were awarded the death penalty and two
received life imprisonment. They have appealed their sentences.
Pakistan has experienced an alarming rise in sectarian violence
since the 1999 coup. In particular, Sunni extremists, often with
connections to militant organizations such as Sipah-e-Sahaba
Pakistan (SSP), have targeted Muslims of the Shi'a sect. There has
been a sharp increase in the number of targeted killings of Shi'a,
and particularly Shi'a doctors, since the 1999 coup. These doctors
make easy targets as they work in easily accessible public places
and follow predictable routines. Indeed, the majority of the victims
have been killed in or around their clinics or hospitals. Shi'a
Muslim doctors are now fleeing Pakistan in large numbers in fear of
their lives. Human Rights Watch has interviewed the families of many
of those killed.
Since assuming power, your government has followed what can only be
described as a deliberate policy of strengthening sectarian militant
organizations. This has involved providing support to the political
wings of these organizations under the umbrella of the MMA and
otherwise, while little effort has been made to bring those
responsible for acts of sectarian violence to justice or to provide
protection to the targets or their families.
On October 6, Maulana Azam Tariq, a Sunni extremist leader and
member of parliament, was murdered in an apparent act of retaliation
by unknown assailants. Maulana Azam Tariq had generated animosity
because of his reported declaration that Shi'a were non-Muslims and
legitimate targets for murder, and his being allowed to contest the
October 2000 elections despite being the head of Sipah-e-Sahaba
Pakistan, which the government had declared a terrorist sectarian
organization. Further, when under arrest on charges of murder, Tariq
had the unusual privilege of being provided a stipend of 10,000
rupees per month by the government. Once elected to the National
Assembly, Tariq chose to support the pro-Musharraf government in
place since November 2002.
Human Rights Watch fears that Azam Tariq's murder may spark a new
wave of violence against the Shi'a community. It is the
responsibility of the government of Pakistan to protect the Shi'a
citizens of Pakistan and safeguard their right to life. This is a
duty that the government has thus far failed to perform.
Human Rights Watch urges you and your government to take measures to
address the problem of sectarian violence in Pakistan. Those
implicated in acts of sectarian violence must be prosecuted, and
actions to protect the affected communities must be undertaken. It
is critical that your government act, and appear to act, impartially
on all religious and sectarian matters. The failure to do so could
result in serious violence.