Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thirty nine persons recorded disappeared during the first quarter of 2008

Thirty nine (39) persons, mostly young people, remain missing after arrest during the first quarter of 2008; their whereabouts are unknown to their families. The state intelligence agencies are still operative in arbitrarily arresting people, keeping them in custody for several months and torturing them to confess their involvement in crimes against the state. After the general elections of February 2008, about 27 persons disappeared after arrests by the Elite Force, a state intelligence agency working under the Pakistan Army. According to the reports collected by the Defence of Human Rights, an organization working on the recovery of disappeared persons, and Baloch Rights Council, an umbrella organization of several Baloch nationalist organizations, more than 65 persons have been disappeared after the imposition of the state of emergency by President Musharraf, (who was then General Musharraf) on November 3, 2007.

The latest disappearance is that of Mr. Asad Ali Shah, a 24 year old teacher of Saint Paul, Rawalpindi, who was arrested on March 22, 2008, just two days before the new elected assembly took oaths. Mr. Shah's mother and father who were interviewed by the BBC said he was arrested by the Elite Force. He was taken from his home in the early hours of the morning by personnel from the Elite Force who told his parents that they would return him within 15 minutes as they wanted him to support a statement. However, until now there is no news about him. His family is afraid that wherever he is, he is being severely tortured. The Baloch Rights Council claims that 23 persons are missing from districts of Dera Bugti and Sui, Balochistan province after their arrest by plain clothes men driving in police vans since the start of March 2008, just weeks after the general elections of February 18.

Since 2001, when the war on terror began, it is reported by the several nationalists and religious groups that about 5000 persons remain disappeared after arrests. In the southern province of Balochistan, nationalist groups and political parties are claiming that about 4000 persons are missing since the military operation began in the province in year 2001 and that the Pakistan Army has killed several hundred persons in aerial bombardments. In the North Western Frontier Province, where the Pakistani military and foreign forces are carrying out operations against militants, the media and political parties are claiming that more than 1000 persons are missing and that their whereabouts remain unknown. The nationalist forces of Sindh province claim that about 100 persons have been disappeared but that some of them were released after the intervention of the Supreme Court and Sindh High Court. In Punjab province most of those arrested were from some religious groups working in southern and north western areas of the Punjab province. The figure goes to more than 100 persons.

The newly formed civilian government of Pakistan particularly, the Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani have still not mentioned about the fate of disappeared persons after their arrests by the state intelligence agencies. The issue of the disappearances was one of the main issues which caused the dismissal of the deposed Chief Justice and whole higher judiciary by the military rulers. The state agencies are still operating freely to arrest any one with out any legal authority and keeping persons incommunicado for several months during which time they are tortured. The new government must realise that their indifferent attitude towards the issue of disappearances will only strengthened the resolve of the intelligence agencies of the army to run a parallel rule of law contrary to constitution and civilian laws.

This is the time for the newly formed coalition government to take the issue of disappeared person as one of the priority issue for their government's 100 days task, which was announced by the prime minister after formation of his government. The government of Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani should announce policy statement about the fate of disappeared persons and their release and make a committee of parliamentarians to record statement from all those persons who were released from the captivity of intelligence agencies. The government should also seriously take the notice of the testimonies of the released persons about the military torture camps in all big cities of the country and immediately start a probe of them.

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