HRW questions govt’s claim about democracy
NEW YORK – Human Rights Watch has criticized the government of Pakistan for its ‘repression’ of a PPP demonstration in Islamabad on Dec 21.
In a press release, Human Rights Watch recalled that the aborted demonstration was called by Asif Ali Zardari, husband of former prime minister and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, who had announced he would lead a rally in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Prior to Mr Zardari’s arrival in Islamabad, law-enforcement agencies had attempted to seal off the airport, police and paramilitary forces arrested hundreds of PPP activists trying to reach Islamabad’s airport to receive Mr Zardari, and police and PPP supporters clashed at several points on the airport road.
Hundreds of party activists still managed to converge outside the airport. There, police in riot gear fired teargas shells and baton charged the crowd, the press release said. Among those beaten by the police were PPP legislators who had attempted to prevent the police from attacking the crowd.
Eleven PPP activists were seriously injured, allegedly as a result of excessive force by the police. Scores of PPP supporters remain in custody without charge. Police snatched camera from photographers and beat several journalists with batons.
“Musharraf spoke a lot about political progress in his recent meetings with Bush and Blair but back in Pakistan it’s business as usual with baton charges and harassment of political opponents,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Pakistani government should immediately release all those who were peaceful protesters at the airport and fully prosecute police who used excessive force.”
The press release also referred to the cases of Javed Hashmi, president of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, who in April was sentenced to 23 years in prison, and Yousuf Raza Gillani, former speaker of the National Assembly, who was convicted in September on charges of corruption and misuse of authority and sentenced to 10 years in prison, fined Rs100 million and disqualified from holding any public office for 10 years.
“If Musharraf is serious about human rights, the rule of law and a return to democracy, he needs to allow the courts to make independent decisions about guilt and innocence,” said Mr Adams. “These are not matters for governments or armies.”