Unlawful arrest, mistreatment, and curbs on freedom of expression and assembly have long been used as part of the Pakistani government’s efforts to crack down on peaceful political activities, including election campaigning, by Kashmiri nationalist parties.
As a consequence of Pakistan-imposed laws, Kashmiri nationalists are effectively prohibited from participating in legislative elections and holding government jobs. The All Parties Nationalist Alliance (APNA) and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) decided to attempt participation in the July 5, 2001 elections and fielded 32 candidates each who refused to support accession to Pakistan. The testimony below concerns the events of the 2001 elections. However, all those interviewed below also filed nominations for the 2006 elections. The Azad Kashmir election authorities have, once again, rejected their nomination papers. Human Rights Watch fears that as polling day approaches, these individuals and 60 other persons whose nomination papers have been rejected, as well as hundreds of their party activists, will face a repeat of the human rights violations they endured in 2001.
Below are a few of the accounts Human Rights Watch has collected related to unlawful arrests, mistreatment, and curbs on freedom of expression during the 2001 elections to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly.
Sardar Mohammad Sagheer Khan, secretary-general of the JKLF (Amanullah Khan Group), who has been on Pakistan’s exit control list since 1992, described his experience to Human Rights Watch:
During the scrutiny of nomination papers in 2001, I asked the election Returning Officer why my basic rights were being violated. There were 20-30 policemen in the Returning Officer’s chambers. The police immediately arrested me and hundreds of our workers outside were tear-gassed and baton-charged. The ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence] had seen that we had public support during the nomination filing process earlier as I had been accompanied by over a thousand supporters. I was arrested, beaten with batons, received head injuries – I was bleeding and my left arm was dislocated during the beating.
I was then thrown into the police van alone and half an hour later, I was taken to Rawalakot Police Station where I was beaten with batons, abused and humiliated. My other colleagues joined me about 35-40 minutes later.
Three nights later, we were shifted to Kotli Jail. We were classed as common criminals in jail and kept alongside criminals. We were not criminals and we were kept with them purely to humiliate us. A mentally unbalanced person was also placed in my cell along with a mass murderer. But we managed to maintain the peace despite the best attempts of the police to create a violent situation. The problem was that we were not allowed any family visits. On the direct intervention of influential friends, one or two people were allowed a brief meeting with relatives.
When we were released we tried to launch a mass contact movement but Rawalakot was placed under unofficial curfew and our meetings were not allowed. The district Poonch and district Kotli administrations were placed on high alert and kept under tight surveillance to prevent us from mobilizing. In the run up to the elections, at least 800 people were arrested across Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Sardar Naseem Iqbal is an Azad Kashmir Supreme Court lawyer and former secretary-general of APNA. His party allegiance lies with the JKLF (Rauf Kashmiri group), a constituent of APNA. He was a candidate from Poonch. His and his colleagues’ nomination papers were rejected for being in violation of the Azad Kashmir election laws and constitution. Sardar Naseem told Human Rights Watch what followed the rejection of his nomination papers in 2001:
The nomination was rejected on June 7. The same day, we were called for discussions by the Poonch deputy commissioner, Dr. Mehmoodul Hassan, at his office in Rawalakot. [Five colleagues] and I went. When we got there, a major from the ISI was present. I don’t remember his name. He said, ‘Just wait outside my office.’ When we emerged from the office, we were surrounded by around 100 police officers. Our supporters were demonstrating in other parts of the city and the police was spread all over. The deputy commissioner ordered our arrest. As soon as he said this, the police started baton-charging us. We did not resist arrest and raised our hands, but they continued to beat us, regardless. They threw us in the nehr [stream]. [Name withheld] sustained more serious injuries than the others.
They took us to Rawalakot police station. One of our colleagues and fellow candidates from JKLF (Amanullah Khan Group) had already been arrested and taken there. We were locked up for three days and not even presented before a judicial magistrate. No one was allowed to meet us for three days. We were cut off from the outside world. In the station the police were pressured by the ISI. The police know us. I am a lawyer – they may have arrested us, but they would not have held us incommunicado without ISI pressure.
During the time we were in the police station, our colleagues who demonstrated outside the police station for our release would also be arrested. We were then shifted to District Kotli Jail four hours away. This was on June 11 at 1:00 a.m. By the time we were moved to the jail, around 25 of us had been arrested. We were kept in jail for one month. For one month, there was no paperwork. Others were released a month later, but 6-8 of us remained in jail and were served with “extension of remand” under the Maintenance of Public Order Act for another 15 days. Once the election was over on July 5, the case was withdrawn but only after they told us to deposit bail bonds and we refused.
I don’t understand this. Even under their own laws, we may not be able to contest elections. But we surely are allowed to vote. But clearly, the government did not allow us to be part of the political process in any way. Is this not discriminatory? Is this not a gross violation of our rights? Do we have any rights at all?
Zahid Habib Sheikh, a prospective JKLF candidate told Human Rights Watch:
I filed my nomination papers on June 1, 2001. On June 7, the papers were rejected because I had not signed the declaration supporting accession to Pakistan. The matter could have ended there. But the army was tense about our mobilizing public opinion against the election and engaging in political activity. On July 4, one day prior to the July 5 elections, we were all arrested. All JKLF candidates across Azad Kashmir and senior office bearers were arrested because we announced a boycott of the election. On July 4 at 2:30 a.m., the local authorities headed by SHO Zahid Mirza entered my house. They jumped over the walls and into my house. They said we will tell you the reason for your arrest at the police station. About 50 police officers from the City Police Station Muzaffarabad were present.
I was taken to the police station and taken to the lockup and handcuffed. We are political activists but we were put in the same cells as common criminals. Once there, I discovered that there were 7 other JKLF members present. In the morning, we were told by the police that the arrests had been made on orders of the GOC [Pakistan Army Corps commander] Murree and the question of bail did not arise! They said no FIR [police report] would be filed and no arrest warrants were needed as the general had ordered the arrests. In the morning we were shifted to Muzaffarabad Central Jail along with criminals. We were released five days later. Even now, we are constantly under surveillance. They keep asking my neighbors what I am up to. Why? I am not a criminal.