May 11, 2023
By Maryam Missal
In a statement published today, May 11, the global human rights monitor Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called upon Pakistan’s police force to exercise restraint and urged the Pakistani authorities to lift social media restrictions.
The organization observed the use of excessive force by local law enforcement agencies (LEAs) against protesters following the May 9 arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on corruption charges.
It also termed the suspension of mobile internet services and restrictions on access to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook “overbroad and indiscriminate in violation of basic rights.”
“The Pakistani government should uphold the right to peaceful protest while responding to violence with the minimum force needed,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW states.
“Criminal acts should be promptly investigated and appropriately prosecuted.”
She further stated that the prevailing situation in Pakistan is resulting in cycles of violence and counter-violence and that it is crucial that the authorities act in a manner that does not result in the situation spiraling out of control.
The watchdog observed that PTI supporters have used rocks, Molotov cocktails, and (in a few cases) assault rifles in clashes with police. Protesters have also set fire to ambulances, police vehicles, and schools, and destroyed property. HRW provided that LEAs responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and baton charge, arresting hundreds of PTI members under charges of criminal intimidation, rioting, and assaulting government officials.
The organization noted that at least one man was reported dead in Quetta after police opened fire on protesters.
The statement further reads that the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials hold that LEAs and security forces should apply the minimum necessary force at all times and that firearms may be permitted only as an absolute last resort and that to the minimum necessary extent. Per the aforementioned Principles, LEAs and security forces may only resort to lethal force when absolutely unavoidable to protect life.
On the matter of internet restrictions, the human rights monitor observed that the Government of Pakistan contends that it was necessary to protect the public and prevent the spread of misinformation. However, the HRW held that the measure denies ordinary people access to lifesaving information, interferes with access to health care, and restricts the ability of journalists to upload photos and videos documenting government overreach and abuse. It stated that international human rights laws prohibit restrictions on fundamental freedoms, including the right to free expression and access to information.