June 26, 2020

By Hidayatullah Achakzai


CHAMAN

Two local journalists, Syed Ali Achakzai and Abdul Mateen Achakzai were arrested earlier this week and later released. During their arrest they were first moved to Machh jail – around 200 kilometers away from Chaman from where they were arrested – in a convoy of security forces, and allegedly tortured.

The journalists were arrested under Section 3 of the Maintenance Public Ordinance (MPO) 1960, which allows the government to arrest and detain any person to ensure public safety.

But after journalists’ bodies intervened, and the case was reported internationally, the men were eventually released, however certainly not in the same physical condition as they were in before.

After their release, the journalists revealed that they had been badly tortured during detention. At Quetta’s Press Club, they showed their wounds to fellow journalists.

But Syed Ali Achakzai and Mateen Achakzai maintain that they have not done anything wrong and that they were punished for telling what they claim is the ‘truth’. “We pointed out the failures of the district administration in efficiently running the quarantine centers,” said Ali Achakzai. “And they got their revenge by arresting us and torturing us.

Backlash

There was panic in the area after the two journalists went missing on the night of June 20, 2020. A frantic search revealed nothing, but soon it was understood that the two had been picked up on charges of alleged ‘cross border smuggling’.

According to an inside source, there is rampant smuggling throughout Chaman, making it a kind of a ‘primary livelihood’ for the people living there. However the journalists organizations and press clubs vehemently condemned this act of brutality against journalists.

International Response

The issue was also picked up by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) and the BBC.

Along with the journalist bodies, RSF or Reporters Without Borders, called on the authorities in Balochistan to order a judicial investigation to identify who was responsible for torturing the two TV reporters while they were held for three days and to bring the torturers to justice.

“We were blindfolded and taken to a place where we were handed over to the Anti-Terrorism Force that is operated by the Balochistan Levies, and the ATF took us to the notorious Machh prison and tortured us there to the point that you can see signs of the torture on our backs,” revealed Abdul Mateen Achakzai.

In a press statement by the RSF, it said that the Balochistan Levies were a paramilitary gendarmerie which often operated illegally. “The Levies were asked to intervene in this case by the deputy commissioner of the Chaman police, who did not like the way the two reporters had covered a quarantine centre located at the border,” said the head of RSF Asia-Pacific, Daniel Bastard.

Achakzai had also revealed that they had been facing constant harassment since some time.

“We had been getting WhatsApp messages threatening us with arrest, because the DC and paramilitary force commanders were unhappy with our coverage,” he said,

“It is absolutely unacceptable that representatives of the security forces should commit acts of torture simply because they did not like what these two journalists reported,” said Daniel Bastard. He urged the Balochistan Chief Minister, Jam Kamal Khan, to order a judicial enquiry into those responsible for their abduction. “This shocking press freedom violation does not remain unpunished. The credibility of the rule of law in Pakistan is at stake.”

He added that journalists working in the Chaman region are constantly subjected to considerable harassment because it was a hub of every kind of trafficking between Pakistan and Afghanistan with the complicity of local politicians and the security forces. For journalists to cover a story linked to this corruption often means risking their lives.

Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than in 2019.

Protest By Local Journalists

A large number of journalists staged a walkout from the Balochistan assembly during the post-budget session. A protest rally was also held outside the assembly building.

Shahzada Zulifqar, the President of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) demanded tat the government to form an independent commission to probe the matter.

“This was an inhuman act. If anyone has any problem with their reporting or if they think that these journalists have done something criminal, then a case should have been registered against them formally and they should have been investigated,” said Zulifqar. He criticized the government for invoking Section 3 of the MPO to arrest them. He said that usually that Section was invoked against suspects of terrorism or the enemies of the country.

Meanwhile, while the DC and other authorities did not give any statement regarding this matter, the Balochistan Home Minister Zia Langove has assured the journalists that a high-level committee will be formed to probe the matter. He also promised that all the officials involved in this matter will be held accountable.

United Nations Convention Against Torture

June 26, marks the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Pakistan has signed and ratified the UNCAT (United Nations Convention against Torture), but no law has been implemented.

Only recently, a joint statement was issued by some human rights organizations that demanded the criminalization of torture.

“Freedom from torture is one of the most universally recognized human
rights and also the most violated right in Pakistan which takes place with impunity as there is no adequate legislation to curb it,” said Nida Aly, Director Asma Jahangir (AGHS) Legal Aid Cell. “Recently barbaric cases of torture have emerged and despite the fact that the Constitution is resolute on the dignity of the person against inhuman treatment, there is no effective legislation that has been introduced.” Aly said that the Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari had already undertaken to adopt the bill but no effort or progress has been made to this effect. “Torture should be unequivocally banned and the perpetrators must be brought into the purview of law by punishing such uncivilized acts through the law.”

Meanwhile Sarah Belal of Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) said that the PTI Government had come in with the promise that it will bring police reforms, but nothing could be seen there either.

“We saw the Model Town incident in the last government, and Imran Khan who was in the opposition at the time had held this issue up as an example – that he would see they would get justice, and that torture would never be condoned,” she said. “But today we continue to see it everywhere. We have seen complaints against some police officers that go as far back as 2006, but those officers are still serving.”

Belal said that the civil society has always maintained that we need a law against torture but now that Pakistan has signed and ratified CAT and there is a GSP status it is now incumbent upon Pakistan to enact it.
“Let us begin with the police,” she said. “It has become one of the biggest problem for the public in general with regard to torture and the the impunity they get. There
are several others too including the lawyers and many others who are powerful public officers, but we should start with the police.”

Meanwhile the HRCP also condemned the way torture had become a usual style of the police and referred to some recent few cases that came in the media where those in physical remand were manhandled to such an extent that some of them
died.

Only two days ago, in Peshawar, Rafiullah alias Amir, was beaten, paraded naked and sexually harassed while in police custody has brought about waves of shock, despair and anger. On June 25, there was a protest by dozens of people who demanded that those who were responsible must be apprehended.

There was also the cold blooded torture of a mentally disturbed person alahuddin Ayubi last year and of a gardener Amir Masih, whose death happened in police custody and whose post mortem revealed that it was because of torture. There is an unlawful use of force followed by ‘ad hoc administrative actions to assuage public outcry’ and these have happened repeatedly.

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