June 2nd, 2021
Independent United Nations human rights experts have expressed concern over allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and legal proceedings against leaders and activists working for the Pashtun minority in the country.
Separately, Pakistan told UN experts in its response that state institutions had not harassed any of the seven journalists against whom cases were lodged in the country.
The communication from five experts, dated March 31, was recently publicly uploaded on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Raising concerns about violations of international treaty obligations, the UN experts have sought details from the Pakistani government about continuous detention of Ali Wazir, member of National Assembly and leader of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement; alleged custodial killing of Aqal Noor; lodging of arbitrary cases against PTM leader Ali Zaib Mehsud; alleged targeting of non-governmental organisations connected with Prof Muhammad Ismail, and his wife Uzlifat Ismail; alleged harassment and intimidation of PTM core committee member Sheeren Zada; military court trial of Idris Khattak; and enforced disappearances and subsequent torture of five members from the Pashtun community.
“We express serious concern as to the aforementioned allegations of enforced disappearances, arrests and criminal accusations brought against the aforementioned individuals, which appear to have been made in retaliation for their human rights work, their ties with the PTM and the Pashtun minority more broadly. We are also concerned by the alleged enforced disappearance and subsequent death of one individual in detention,” the UN experts stated in their letter to the government.
The letter was undersigned by special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment Nils Melzer, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) Elina Steinerte, chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Tae-Ung Baik, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard, and special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.
Detention of Ali Wazir
According to the information provided, the UN experts noted that Ali Wazir, who was arrested over charges of hatching a criminal conspiracy and making derogatory remarks against State institutions on 16th December 2020, suffers from poor health including hypertension, diabetes, and heart problems. However, he has allegedly not been provided with adequate medical care and held in overcrowded cells despite the COVID pandemic.
The UN experts stated that 35 criminal cases against Ali Zaib were registered after his release on bail by the Supreme Court on 16th September 2019. He has been also placed on the exit control list. The legal cases have also been costly for Zaib, and his family and personal life have been severely affected, the UN experts said.
Custodial death of Aqal Noor
On 20 June 2020, Aqal Noor, a native of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and belonging to the Pashtun minority, was allegedly abducted by agents of the Pakistani Army in Lakki Marwat. Six months after his arrest, the dead body of Aqal Noor was handed over to his family. The authorities reportedly provided no explanation as to the reason of his death but it is believed that he had been tortured.
Prof Ismail’s NGOs accounts frozen
The UN experts noted with concern that the accounts of NGOs connected with Prof Muhammad Ismail had been frozen allegedly aimed at silencing his activist daughter Gulalai Ismail who is living in exile. Both of her parents have also been placed on the exit control list.
Threats to PTM leader
The UN experts stated that PTM leader Shereen Zada and persons associated to him were being frequently threatened by members of Inter-Services Intelligence with “dire consequences”, including “abduction, torture, and death threats”.
Military trial of Idris Khattak
The UN experts asked the government to provide details about the results of any investigation and judicial or other inquiries which may have been carried out to clarify the circumstances of the alleged enforced disappearances and secret detention of Idris Khattak. They also asked the government to provide detailed information on the reasons why the trial of Idris Khattak it is not being conducted before a civilian court and how the government is ensuring he is given a fair trial before the military court in Mangla.
Illegal detention and torture
According to the information, the UN experts said Nizam Udin, Syed Manullah, Ameen Khan, Abdul Samad and Zaid Ullah were detained by military personnel without a warrant from their houses. They were illegally detained for four days in a school building and severely tortured during their detention. The UN experts asked the government to provide details of any investigation and judicial inquiries in relation to allegations of torture faced by the above individuals.
Pakistan says no state institutions harassing journalists
In response to a joint communication by the UN experts dated 22nd January 2021 over harassment of seven journalists through lodging of cybercrime cases, Pakistan clarified that the sources of information misrepresented facts of the cases and no harassment has been done by the state institutions due to journalistic work of any referred person.
In their communication, the UN experts had referred to cases lodged against seven journalists- Mian Dawood, Amir Mir, Izharul Haq, Gul Bukhari, Asad Ali Toor, Rana Arshad, Ajeeb Ali Lakho.
“Many of the cases mentioned in the joint communication have been initiated on basis of alleged defamation by ordinary citizens,” the Pakistan Permanent Mission to the United Nations based in Geneva wrote in its response dated 4th May, 2021.
The Pakistan Mission said cases against Asad Ali Toor and Rana Arshad were dropped due to lack of evidence. However, proceedings were underway in cases against Mian Dawood, Amir Mir, Izharul Haq, Gul Bukhari, and Ajeeb Ali Lakho.
The Pakistani Mission noted that the attempt to escape persecution by presenting disingenuous justifications is, in fact, detrimental to the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and opinion. “In case of Ajeeb Ali Lakho, the Court even concluded that he was blackmailing the State officials, “ the Pakistan Mission said.
Necessary judicial oversight has been ensured throughout the investigation process, especially at its initiation stage, in line with the international human rights law standards, the Pakistan Mission said.
“The Government of Pakistan, therefore, underscores that cases brought by ordinary citizens (due to any infringement of their rights protected under the national legal framework) against a handful of journalists cannot be extrapolated to conclude that they represent a pattern of restrictions on freedom of expression of journalists in the country,” it said.
The Pakistan Mission said that necessary legal and administrative avenues are also available for the journalists and human rights defenders for redressal of their complaints.
UN experts concerned at HR abuse of 3 Kashmiri men
In a separate communication addressed to the Indian government on 31st March, the UN experts expressed their concern on allegations of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance and torture and ill-treatment committed against three Kashmiri men- Waheed Para, Irfan Ahmad Dar and Naseer Ahmad Wani.