(New York) - Lifting the state of emergency will not restore real constitutional rule in Pakistan unless President Pervez Musharraf also withdraws changes he made to the constitution and reinstates the judiciary, Human Rights Watch said today. Musharraf imposed a state of emergency and suspended constitutional rule on November 3, 2007 on the pretext of fighting terrorism.
The Pakistani government has announced that Musharraf will lift the state of emergency and restore the constitution on December 15. However, since November 3 he has illegally fired and detained senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, arbitrarily changed laws and amended the constitution. These amendments serve the purpose of institutionalizing impunity for the military’s human rights abuses and muzzling lawyers and the media, Human Rights Watch said.
“Musharraf’s so-called return to constitutional rule provides legal cover to laws that muzzle the media and lawyers and gives the army a license to abuse,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “A genuine restoration of Pakistan’s constitution would require Musharraf to return to the constitution and judiciary that existed before November 3.”
Since November 3, Musharraf has repeatedly and arbitrarily amended the constitution to enshrine the legality of various laws and provide himself and the military blanket immunity for all actions taken during emergency rule. The executive order to amend the constitution includes a number of amendments that would normally require a two-thirds majority in parliament to become law. Among them, Musharraf has withdrawn from Pakistan’s courts the power to review all governmental actions for which he, his government or the military may be responsible, since the imposition of emergency rule on November 3.
Human Rights Watch noted that Musharraf has made arbitrary changes to Pakistani laws that impose serious restrictions on individual rights and will fuel human rights abuses. The changes are permanent, and will not be lifted when the constitution is restored.
For example, under an amendment to the 1952 Army Act, the military can now try civilians for a wide range of offenses previously under the country’s judiciary, including charges as vague as causing “public mischief.” Hearings before special military courts to try civilians will not be public, investigations will be conducted by military officers, and the standard rules of evidence and procedures for criminal trials will not apply. The law takes effect retroactively from January 2003, in effect giving the army immunity for detaining and “disappearing” people and allowing the military to arrest opponents with impunity.
“The military is Pakistan’s principal human rights abuser, yet Musharraf has changed the law so that it can play judge, jury, and executioner,” said Hasan.
Similarly, the government has muzzled the media through two decrees that bar it from printing or broadcasting “anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organ of the state.” Television discussions on anything deemed to be “false or baseless” by the regulatory authorities have also been banned. Geo TV, the country’s largest private television network, remains off the air in Pakistan, and the media have been prohibited from any live broadcasts related to the upcoming elections or call-ins by viewers.
Another decree has ended the independence of the Bar Associations and given the government new powers to disbar lawyers involved in anti-government activities. It also empowers the Supreme Court and the High Courts, now stacked with weak political appointees under Musharraf’s control, to disbar lawyers.
“Lawyers led the movement to restore constitutional rule and emerged as Musharraf’s most formidable opponents,” said Hasan. “This is a despicable attempt to end political opposition by threatening the livelihoods of government critics.”
Musharraf introduced a host of new constitutional amendments on December 14 to keep him in power and remove challenges to his presidency. In addition to changing procedures for the election of the president, the December 14 amendment decree also formalizes the ouster of judges deposed by Musharraf on November 3, stating that they will “cease to hold office” from that date.
Human Rights Watch emphasized that the Pakistani constitution does not allow the government to fire or forcibly retire judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. Deposed judges remain in detention, including the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who is being held under house arrest along with his family.
Human Rights Watch called upon the United States and the United Kingdom, as Musharraf’s chief international backers, to insist on a genuine return to constitutional rule and the restoration of the judiciary in Pakistan.
“Bush and Brown should recognize that lifting the emergency will do little to lift the burden of abuse and oppression on Pakistan’s people.” said Hasan. “Instead of playing along with Musharraf’s power-grab, they should condemn his latest ploy for legitimacy.”