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Return Pakistan to Civilian Rule
Letter to General Pervez Musharraf

Key Sections

Torture and Mistreatment of Political Opponents and Journalists

Return to Civilian Rule & the Legal Framework Order

War on Terror

Legal Discrimination Against and Mistreatment of Women and Religious Minorities

Sectarian Violence
October 10, 2003

His Excellency General Pervez Musharraf
President Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Constitution Avenue
Islamabad, Pakistan

Dear General Musharraf:

October 12, 2003 will mark the fourth anniversary of the military coup that brought you to power. Since the 1999 coup, Human Rights Watch has monitored the suppression of civil liberties and the progressive undermining of civilian institutions in Pakistan.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that in the years since the coup, the Pakistani government has systematically violated the fundamental rights of members of the political opposition and former government officials. It has harassed, threatened, and arbitrarily arrested them. Many have been detained without charge, mistreated and tortured, and otherwise denied their basic due process rights. The government has removed independent judges from the higher courts, banned anti-government public rallies and demonstrations, and rendered political parties all but powerless. In addition, the last four years have also witnessed the rise of extremist political activity and an increase in sectarian killings.

Meanwhile, your involvement with the United States in its war on terror has been characterized by a disregard for the due process rights of suspects. Arbitrary arrests and detentions, apparently with the support of U.S. authorities in Pakistan, have taken place with depressing regularity.

The rule of law is a critical element in the promotion and protection of human rights. Your failure to institute genuine and periodic elections as required by international law has become an important symbol of the lack of rule of law in Pakistan. We urge you to provide a timetable and demonstrate a commitment to genuine, pluralistic elections at the earliest possible date. October 12 would provide an excellent opportunity to make such a commitment. Solutions to many of the human rights problems discussed below depend, at least in part, on the creation of a duly constituted civilian government.

Torture and Mistreatment of Political Opponents and Journalists

Torture is routinely used in Pakistan, both to obtain confessions in criminal cases and against political opponents. Most acts of torture committed by civilian law enforcement agencies are usually issue-specific and aimed at producing a confession during the course of a criminal investigation. By contrast, acts of torture by military agencies primarily serve the purpose of "punishing" an errant politician, political activist or journalist. Torture by the military usually takes place after the victim has been abducted;
the purpose is to frighten the victim into changing his political stance or loyalties or at the very least to stop him from being critical of the military authorities. The victim is often let go on the understanding that if he fails to behave, another further abduction and mistreatment will follow. In this manner, the victim can be kept in a state of fear often for several years.

A recent example is the case of Rasheed Azam, a journalist and political activist from Khuzdar in Balochistan province. Azam, a reporter for the local newspapers Intikhab and Asap and a member of the organizing committee of the Balochistan National Party, has been in police custody since August 15, 2002. Azam communicated to Human Rights Watch through intermediaries that he has been taken three times to the Khuzdar military cantonment where he alleges he was abused and tortured, including by being beaten while he was hung upside down and through sleep deprivation.

Azam is being held on baseless claims that he committed sedition. According to the First Information Report of the local police, Azam was arrested in Quetta on the basis of a report "received from a sensitive department" that he had distributed a poster with a photograph of Pakistan army personnel beating a crowd of Baloch youth. The report goes on to state that such "sedition" against the army "is an offense of grave nature." However, the report fails to mention the date, time or place the alleged "crime" was committed, nor does it name the "sensitive department" in question or any eyewitnesses that saw the "offense" being perpetrated. Rasheed Azam remains in jail to date as his bail application was rejected by the district judge on the grounds that the case against the accused was credible. His colleagues have filed a bail application in the Balochistan High Court that awaits hearing.

Another case of detention and torture is of Rana Sanaullah Khan, a member of the suspended Punjab provincial assembly. Sanaullah was arrested under the sedition law for criticizing the military government in November 1999. According to Sanaullah, he was whipped, beaten, held incommunicado, and interrogated for a week in police custody before eventually being released on bail. In October 2002, Sanaullah was re-elected to the Punjab Assembly and elected deputy leader of the opposition. On March 8, 2003, heavily armed men, some of whom wore police uniforms, abducted him.

According to Sanaullah:
I was handcuffed and, with my face covered with a cloth, I was driven to the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] office where I was tortured for three or four hours. They were using some sharp-edged weapon with which they would cut open my skin and then rub some sort of chemical in the wound. I felt as if I was on fire every time they did that. I have 22 such injuries on my body. Later, I was pushed into a car and thrown on a service lane along the motorway some 20 kilometers from Faisalabad.
Sanaullah explained to Human Rights Watch that he remains under pressure from the government and continues to receive sporadic threats.

The use of such forms of arbitrary detention and torture must end. Perpetrators of the torture of Azam, Sanaullah and others must be removed from the country's security forces and prosecuted.

Return to Civilian Rule & the Legal Framework Order

Your administration has unilaterally imposed a series of far-reaching amendments to the Pakistan constitution that dramatically strengthen the power of the presidency, formalize the role of the army in governance, and diminish the authority of elected representatives.

The amendments under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) significantly curb freedom of association and the freedom of individuals to stand for elected office. Opposition legislators who have spoken to Human Rights Watch have reportedly been beaten, harassed, and subjected to blackmail for voicing opposition to these arbitrary changes to the Pakistani constitution.

Indeed, in the months preceding Pakistan's October 2002 parliamentary elections, your administration took measures that all but ensured a military-controlled government. In addition to the constitutional amendments under the LFO, these included an April 2002 referendum that extended your presidential term for five years and restrictions on political party activities. Independent observers reported extensive fraud and coercion during voting for the referendum and widespread poll-rigging and harassment of candidates preceding the parliamentary elections. It is worth pointing out that these measures have served to suppress the kind of moderate voices necessary for Pakistan to develop into a pluralistic, rights-respecting society.

Subsequent to the elections, your administration has chosen to sideline the mainstream political opposition and negotiate on the LFO only with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious political parties that have historically enjoyed close links with the Pakistan military. However, even these negotiations broke down recently over your administration's refusal to offer a firm date by which you would resign from your military position in exchange for their support for your running for president of Pakistan in a civilian capacity.

Taken together, the amendments under the LFO have ensured that ostensibly civilian governments at the federal and provincial level are effectively subordinate to and even exist at the discretion of the president and the military. In spite of this, the opposition in the federal parliament has made it clear that it does not recognize the validity of the constitution as arbitrarily amended by your administration. We urge you to recognize the troubling implications of the LFO and the resulting constitutional crisis for credible civilian governance in Pakistan and to rescind the LFO.

War on Terror

The conduct of the war on terror in Pakistan has raised serious questions about the commitment of Pakistan to internationally and domestically recognized standards of due process.

Perhaps the most high profile example of the failure of due process occurred in December 2000 when Pakistani security forces, allegedly accompanied by officials of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), raided a house in Lahore and arrested nine individuals. The group included several well-known doctors. While your government denies the presence of FBI personnel at the arrest, eyewitness accounts provided to Human Rights Watch say that Caucasian men with American accents accompanied the Pakistani officials and took charge of the operation once they had gained entry to the premises. Only several weeks after the arrests did the government admit that the doctors had been detained under the Security Act for alleged links with Al-Qaeda. Subsequently, the Pakistan government repeatedly ignored orders by the Lahore High Court to produce the detainees in court. Instead, the detainees are currently on trial by an "anti-terrorism" court in Lahore, a process that lacks basic procedural safeguards for a fair trial.

In another incident, Dr. Amir Aziz, a Lahore-based orthopedic surgeon who has reportedly provided treatment to members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership, was arrested on October 21 2002. His family reported that he had been arrested by ISI officials accompanied by Americans whom they took to be FBI agents. Without being presented a legal basis for his arrest, Dr. Aziz was released several days later.

The cases mentioned above are illustrative of a pattern of due process violations occurring across Pakistan in the name of the war on terror. Human Rights Watch urged Pakistani authorities to scrupulously follow international due process standards in prosecuting in cases of alleged terror suspects.

Legal Discrimination Against and Mistreatment of Women and Religious Minorities

Inaction on the Hudood Laws persists despite the government-run National Commission for Status of Women calling for repeal of the Hudood Ordinance on the grounds that it "makes a mockery of Islamic justice" and is "not based on Islamic injunctions." This, despite the outcry in Pakistan and internationally, over cases such as the tribal "jirga" ordered gang-rape of Mukhtaran Bibi in Punjab and the sentencing to death by stoning of Zafran Bibi on grounds of adultery. Human Rights Watch has monitored these and other cases involving abuses under the Hudood Laws. Informed estimates suggest that over 210,000 cases under the Hudood laws are under process in Pakistan's legal system

Under Pakistan's existing Hudood Ordinance, a woman who has been raped and wants the state to prosecute her case must have four Muslim men testify that they witnessed the assault. In the absence of these male witnesses, the rape victim has no case. Equally alarming, if a woman cannot prove the rape allegation she runs a very high risk of being charged with fornication or adultery, the criminal penalty for which is either a long prison sentence, including public whipping, or, though rare, death by stoning. The testimony of women carries half the weight of a man's testimony under this ordinance.

Further, the Qisas (retribution) and Diyat (compensation) Ordinance makes it possible for crimes of honor (such as the killing of women in the name of honor) to be pardoned by relatives of the victim and assesses monetary compensation for female victims at half the rate of male victims.

These are just part of a set of "Islamic" penal laws introduced by the former military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq in 1979. While your administration has publicly warned against this kind of extremism, these warnings have failed to translate into concrete legal measures to protect the basic rights of women in conformity with international norms.

Discrimination and persecution on grounds of religion continues, and an increasing number of blasphemy cases continue to be registered. The Ahmadi community in particular has been the target of religious extremists and Human Rights Watch has followed several cases where members of this community have been subject to discrimination, not just at the hands of religious extremists but the Pakistani police and military authorities as well.

Information provided by the Ahmadi community and authenticated by HRW indicates that during 2002-3 at least ten Ahmadis were charged under various provisions of the Blasphemy Law. Mushtaq Ahmed Saggon and Waris Khan were charged for "preaching" and a case was registered against "Abdul Nasir and three others" for distributing "objectionable literature." Four Ahmadis were accused of preparing to build a "place of worship." (Ahmadis can be charged under the Blasphemy Law for using the term "mosque" to describe their places of worship.) In 2002 at least three members of the Ahmadi community were convicted under the blasphemy law. One was subsequently acquitted on appeal. However, Nazir Ahmed and Allah Rakhio were awarded life imprisonment by an Anti-Terrorist Court on charges of "desecrating the Quran" and "demolishing a mosque."

In addition, at least six others were sentenced under the Blasphemy Law in 2002. Of these four were awarded the death penalty and two received life imprisonment. They have appealed their sentences.

Sectarian Violence

Pakistan has experienced an alarming rise in sectarian violence since the 1999 coup. In particular, Sunni extremists, often with connections to militant organizations such as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), have targeted Muslims of the Shi'a sect. There has been a sharp increase in the number of targeted killings of Shi'a, and particularly Shi'a doctors, since the 1999 coup. These doctors make easy targets as they work in easily accessible public places and follow predictable routines. Indeed, the majority of the victims have been killed in or around their clinics or hospitals. Shi'a Muslim doctors are now fleeing Pakistan in large numbers in fear of their lives. Human Rights Watch has interviewed the families of many of those killed.

Since assuming power, your government has followed what can only be described as a deliberate policy of strengthening sectarian militant organizations. This has involved providing support to the political wings of these organizations under the umbrella of the MMA and otherwise, while little effort has been made to bring those responsible for acts of sectarian violence to justice or to provide protection to the targets or their families.

On October 6, Maulana Azam Tariq, a Sunni extremist leader and member of parliament, was murdered in an apparent act of retaliation by unknown assailants. Maulana Azam Tariq had generated animosity because of his reported declaration that Shi'a were non-Muslims and legitimate targets for murder, and his being allowed to contest the October 2000 elections despite being the head of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, which the government had declared a terrorist sectarian organization. Further, when under arrest on charges of murder, Tariq had the unusual privilege of being provided a stipend of 10,000 rupees per month by the government. Once elected to the National Assembly, Tariq chose to support the pro-Musharraf government in place since November 2002.

Human Rights Watch fears that Azam Tariq's murder may spark a new wave of violence against the Shi'a community. It is the responsibility of the government of Pakistan to protect the Shi'a citizens of Pakistan and safeguard their right to life. This is a duty that the government has thus far failed to perform.

Human Rights Watch urges you and your government to take measures to address the problem of sectarian violence in Pakistan. Those implicated in acts of sectarian violence must be prosecuted, and actions to protect the affected communities must be undertaken. It is critical that your government act, and appear to act, impartially on all religious and sectarian matters. The failure to do so could result in serious violence.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Brad Adams
Executive Director
Asia Division