Human Rights Watch accused Pakistan's military rulers of committing widespread abuses in the name of political "reform," and called on General Pervez Musharraf to immediately return the country to constitutional rule.

In the twenty-page report, "Reform or Repression? Post-Coup Abuses in Pakistan," Human Rights Watch said the Musharraf government had detained opponents and former officials without charge, removed indepedent judges from the higher courts, banned public rallies and demonstrations, and rendered political parties all but powerless.

Musharraf follows a long line of generals in Pakistan who have claimed that a period of military rule is the path to true democracy," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "In fact, he is systematically destroying civil liberties in Pakistan."

Human Rights Watch called on the Musharraf government to:

immediately lift the state of emergency imposed in October 1999;
set a clear and reasonable timetable for holding national and provincial elections;

revoke the Provisional Constitution Order that suspends the constitution and undermines the independence of the judiciary;

amend the November 1999 National Accountability Ordinance, ostensibly designed to punish corrupt officials, because it denies detainees due process of law and invites politically-motivated prosecutions;

cease using the army to monitor civilian institutions;

hold judicial inquiries into allegations of custodial torture and prosecute those responsible.

Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Pakistan to raise human rights concerns, and on Pakistan's donors and trading partners to use every available opportunity to press for implementation of the legal and administrative reforms recommended above.

The new report begins with the immediate aftermath of the coup on October 12, 1999 when Musharraf deposed Nawaz Sharif, and the policy objectives that Musharraf announced for his government. It notes that the Sharif administration had alienated much of the public with heavy handed and increasingly authoritarian policies, and that Musharraf took pains to portray the coup as necessary to reestablish a basis for democratic rule. In two areas, Musharraf did take important steps to safeguard human rights. One of these was to promulgate a juvenile justice ordinance protecting children's rights, and the second was to establish a National Commission on the Status of Women.

In other areas, Human Rights Watch says, the human rights situation has noticeably deteriorated as the military has consolidated power.

Political opponents and suspected wrongdoers have been subjected to prolonged detention without charge, custodial ill treatment, and even torture. The report documents a particularly chilling case of detention and torture involving Rana Sanaullah Khan, a member of the suspended Punjab provincial assembly. Khan was arrested under the sedition law for criticizing the military government in November 1999. He was whipped, beaten, held incommunicado and interrogated for a week in police custody before being transferred to Lahore Central Prison. He was eventually released on bail on January 5.

Two senior Sharif administration officials who were detained on the day of the coup, Information Minister Mushahid Hussain and Petroleum Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, continue to be held without charge.

The report describes other arrests of political party activists and abuses under the National Accountability Ordinance. The Ordinance confers sweeping powers of arrest, investigation, and prosecution in a single institution, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). It permits detainees to be held for up to ninety days without charge, and at trial places the burden of proof on the defendant. Persons convicted under the ordinance are automatically prohibited from holding public office for a period of twenty-one years—a provision that is being used to remove leaders of major political parties from power.

Though the government has repeatedly boasted of its commitment to a free press, a September 27 raid by armed military personnel on the offices of the Karachi-based English daily Dawn has raised grave concerns about freedom of speech in Pakistan. According to Dawn, the raid was preceded by legal notices to the newspaper from the Ministry of Information to restrict its coverage of a draft Freedom of Information Act, and by complaints from government officials about an article in Dawn stating that the administration was preparing new curbs on press freedom.