(New York, February 15, 2008) – In an audio recording obtained by Human Rights Watch, Pakistan’s Attorney General Malik Qayyum stated that upcoming parliamentary elections will be “massively rigged,” Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch said that the recording was made during a phone interview with a member of the media on November 21, 2007. Qayyum, while still on the phone interview, took a call on another telephone and his side of that conversation was recorded. The recording was made the day after Pakistan’s Election Commission announced the schedule for polls. The election was originally planned for January 8 but was postponed after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, returned to Pakistan on November 25. An English translation of the recording, which is in Urdu and Punjabi, follows:
“Leave Nawaz Sharif (PAUSE).... I think Nawaz Sharif will not take part in the election (PAUSE).... If he does take part, he will be in trouble. If Benazir takes part she too will be in trouble (PAUSE).... They will massively rig to get their own people to win. If you can get a ticket from these guys, take it (PAUSE).... If Nawaz Sharif does not return himself, then Nawaz Sharif has some advantage. If he comes himself, even if after the elections rather than before (PAUSE)…. Yes….”
Repeated attempts by Human Rights Watch to contact Qayyum by phone were unsuccessful.
Fears of rigging have been a major issue in the current election campaign. Human Rights Watch said that since the official election period commenced in November 2007, there have been numerous allegations of irregularities, including arrests and harassment of opposition candidates and party members. There are also allegations that state resources, administration and state machinery are being used to the advantage of candidates backed by President Pervez Musharraf. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the Election Commission, which is monitoring the polls, was not acting impartially.
Malik Qayyum is a former judge who resigned from the bench in 2001 amid charges of misconduct. On April 15, 1999, a two-judge panel of the Lahore High Court headed by Qayyum convicted Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari in a corruption case. They were sentenced to five years in prison, fined US$8.6 million dollars each, disqualified as members of parliament for five years, and forced to forfeit their property. The impending verdict led Bhutto to go into exile in March 1999.
In February 2001, the Sunday Times, a British newspaper, published a report based on transcripts of 32 audio tapes, which revealed that Qayyum convicted Bhutto and Zardari for political reasons. The transcripts of the recordings reproduced by the newspaper showed that Qayyum asked then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s anti-corruption chief, Saifur Rehman, for advice on the sentence: “Now you tell me how much punishment do you want me to give her?”
In April 2001, on the basis of this evidence, a seven-member bench of Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld an appeal by the couple, overturning the conviction. In its ruling, the Supreme Court contended that Qayyum had been politically motivated in handing down the sentence. Faced with a trial for professional misconduct before Pakistan’s Supreme Judicial Council, the constitutional body authorized to impeach senior judges, Qayyum opted to resign his post in June 2001.
A close associate of Musharraf, Qayyum was appointed as the lead counsel on behalf of Pakistan’s federal government in the presidential reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, instituted after Chaudhry was first illegally deposed by Musharraf on March 9, 2007. A full bench of Pakistan’s Supreme Court reinstated Chief Justice Chaudhry on July 20, 2007.
Qayyum was appointed attorney general of Pakistan by Musharraf in August 2007.