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Govt must end reign of ‘arbitrary arrests’, says HRW

ISLAMABAD / LAHORE, MAY 21: Amid ongoing crackdown on PTI supporters in the aftermath of attacks on army installations following the arrest of party chairman on May 9, Human Rights Watch has urged the government to display restraint and respect for human rights and rule of law, and put an end to arbitrary arrests of political activists and peaceful protesters.

The HRW pointed towards the mass arrest of PTI supporters in connection with riots and said that more than 4,000 people have been detained and many have been charged “under vague and overbroad laws prohibiting rioting and creating threats to public order”.

Pakistani authorities should release all those held for peaceful protest or supporting political opposition and respect the due process rig­hts of all those detained, said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director.

“Anyone committing violence should be appropriately charged and their due process rights respected,” she said, adding, “Fundamental guarantees of peaceful protest and due process should not become casualties of Pakistan’s political conflict.”

The issue of crackdown on PTI supporters was also the highlight of Mr Khan’s speech, as he urged the powers-that-be to ‘save’ Pakistan as the country was heading towards the ‘point of no return’.

In his address through video link, the PTI chief said he was ready for a “minus-one formula” (him leaving the party) but asked the establishment to explain how it would benefit the country.

He then posed the election question to the establishment, asking how polls in October would help Pakistan. “Will the economy grow better or inflation will go down,” he asked.

Mr Khan claimed that the nation was heading towards a point of no return as the rule of law and Constitution had been suspended in the country and the “law of necessity” prevailed in Pakistan.

He said innocent people, protesting peacefully, were being thrown behind bars and asked under “what law this all is happening”.

The PTI chairman again demanded an inquiry into the May 9 riots to identify “real culprits” and played several video compilations, showing “how police disappeared and how people disembarked from army trucks and provoked the peaceful protesters to go violent”.

At the Corps Commander House in Lahore, Dr Yasmin Rashid and her sisters were crying hoarse that PTI protesters should not go inside, he said, adding PTI leaders in Peshawar were also asking for peaceful protests.

He said the government was not ready to talk about the death of 25 “innocent unarmed civilians” and peaceful protesters were being picked up on the basis of geo-fencing.

“Geo-fencing explains any person’s presence on the given location but not their involvement in any sabotage activity,” he asserted.

He said the government should identify the “saboteurs and share their whereabouts and, if found to be PTI workers, he would himself ask them to appear before the courts”.

The PTI chairman rejected the propaganda that he did not condemn the attack on the Corps Commander House as well as other state buildings. “When I was produced before the Chief Justice of Pakistan a couple of days later I condemned all kinds of violence as this was never my political philosophy during my 27-year political career,” he said.

Call to US lawmaker

Meanwhile, Mr Khan sought the intervention of a US lawmaker for “upholding of rule of law, constitution, and fundamental rights” in Pakistan.

In a Zoom conversation with US Congresswoman Maxine Moore Waters, he said it would “go a long way if someone like you Maxine gives a statement for the upholding of rule of law, constitution, and fundamental rights in Pakistan”. The purported clip of the meeting was leaked on social media. Mr Khan is heard saying the country is passing through “critical times and bizarre situations”.

“My government was removed by the former army chief as he conspired with the people in power right now,” he said and explained that “the army establishment, including secret agencies, is very powerful here”.

The PTI chief is heard saying he would appreciate it if Ms Waters would give a statement against the violation of fundamental rights and desecration of the rule of law and the constitution in the history of Pakistan. “Your statement will go a long way in helping us since it will make a lot of waves in the country,” he said.

Blaming the establishment and government, he can also be heard telling the congresswoman that his life was in danger and in one of the assassination attempts, his leg was injured. Mr Khan told Ms Waters that his party faced the “worst crackdown in the history of Pakistan as no other democratic country had faced such a violation of fundamental rights”.

‘Anti-US narrative’

PML-N leaders and members of the cabinet took exception to Mr Khan’s conversation with the US lawmaker and said the so-called ‘anti-US’ narrative of Mr Khan was negated in light of this conversation.

PM’s special assistants Attaullah Tarar and Malik Ahmed Khan told a presser that earlier Mr Khan was saying his government was toppled by the US and now he was asking its lawmaker to help him. The PML-N leader said the requests to the US showed that the “cipher story was concocted”.

Mr Tarar said Imran Khan was saying that the country was facing the worst human rights situation at present. “What does he want? Does he want all those involved in the attacks on military installations should not face trial? If we let them go then the enemy will attack tomorrow,” he claimed.

Malik Ahmad said as the law was taking its course against those involved in riots, Mr Khan was “seeking help from abroad”. “The democratic people of PTI are not being arrested,” he said.

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