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.

The Changing Face of the PPP


At this juncture, we, the members of the civil society, must not be disheartened. Looking back over the last year, it would have been unthinkable to foresee that democratic forces would be in power and the much-maligned political parties, who also were responsible for their demise, would be provided with one more opportunity to undo the blunders of the past and to provide this nation of ours a bright future.
The struggle has been marked with uphill battles yet slowly but surely, the status quo is crumbling. With this respect, the Pakistan People's Party and the Muslim league Nawaz benefited considerably. We may recall that prior to the Feb 18 elections, Mr Zardari's criticism of Musharraf and the Q league was as harsh as that coming out of the Nawaz camp. Since the elections, the PPP's public statements and private conducts have been in complete odds with each other. PPP continuously stated in the media that the roomers of linking the restoration with a minus 1 formula or the reduction in the tenure of the CJ are unfounded and are a conspiracy. When it was repeatedly reported that senior PPP leaders were holding late night meetings with the establishment, including secret meetings with the present illegal judges, the party dismissed these also. Everything is crystal clear now, isn't it? The unprecedented speed with which the cases has been finalized in Zardari's favor are secret to no one. The recent attack on the CJ, specifically in reference to Mr Zardari's case from 2004 supposedly in his court. We must also remember that justice Iftikhar Chaudhry assumed the office of the CJ on July 1, 2005 and was just one of 17 judges prior to that date.
As seen in Mr Zardari's interview with Dr. Shahid, he discredited the lawyers and the civil society's movement. It appeared as if Musharraf is speaking and not the leader of Pakistan People's party. Many honest Pakistanis admired Zulfikar Bhutto and his sacrifices. However, do you think Mr Bhutto would at any point side with the dictator? His movement was driven by the people of this country. Can, the son in law, who never perhaps met Bhutto, blackmail the nation by citing the sacrifices of the party leaders whenever any substantive issue comes up? Maybe we should ask this question of Ms Fatima Bhutto, the daughter of Mir Martaza Bhutto.
It certainly is a decision for the party about what role is given to Mr Zardari according to some will. However, can the struggle of this nation be held hostage to one man's tittering one it comes to the issues that matter? PPP is suggesting that there is a conspiracy against them. Let us be clear-
The PPP's stance of diluting the powers of the independent judges is perfectly aligned with that of Musharraf and the USA.
So, on one hand are the forces that want a significantly weakened judiciary and on the other hand are the students and the lawyers. And despite the enormous might of the powerful, Musharraf and the United States are crumbling in the eyes of the nation. A sincere request to all the pro PPP persons, whose side are you on?

Student Action Committee takes to the streets for judiciary again

In light of the fact that the issue of the restoration of the judiciary once again lies in peril, and with the 30 day countdown finally coming to an end. The students organized a rally that proceeded from Fast University to the PPP Secretariat. The protest brought together the students once more to send the message that the youth of the country are still active and will not sit idly by. The slogans chanted were pro-judiciary and anti-musharraf. A new variety of slogans from pre-election days were directed at zardari saying be loyal to us [the people] zardari, do not betray us (ker hum se wafadari, zardari zardai; na ker tu hum se ghuddary, zardari zardari) and musharraf-zardari alliance is not acceptable (musharraf zardari ittehad, na manzoor na manzoor).
The message was loud and clear, as repeated over and over by the various speakers. "You the politicians are the representatives of the people, you are answerable to us. We have elected you. You have come on our mandate, and you must stick to the task entrusted on you. We, the people, elected you to restore our judiciary. A restoration that comes with no strings attached. A minus one formula or the reduction of judicial tenures; no such side policies will be appreciated and will be tantamount to a betrayal of the public's trust."
The students made a human chain around the intersection along the rally's way, followed by a picket line around the PPP secretariat. The rally lasted for about an hour and a half, with the students peacefully dispersing as has become the tradition of these student-led protests.