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(London) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown should tell visiting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that free and fair elections will be impossible without the full restoration of Pakistan’s judiciary, Human Rights Watch said today.

Musharraf, in the United Kingdom on the last leg of his first foreign trip since the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27, is scheduled to meet Brown on Monday.

“The British government has long ignored Musharraf’s systematic political repression in exchange for dubious cooperation in the ‘war on terror,’ and hollow promises on free and fair elections,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Brown should tell President Musharraf that the UK will no longer tolerate his abusive policies.”

On November 3, 2007 Musharraf suspended Pakistan’s constitution, fired much of the country’s senior judiciary and arrested thousands of opponents, most of whom were eventually released because of international pressure. Still under house arrest, however, are the fired chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, five colleagues and leading lawyers. While the November state of emergency has been lifted, most of its repressive provisions are still in force under the “restored” constitution.

In the lead-up to the February 18 elections, Human Rights Watch has investigated extensive media censorship, disruption of opposition party activities, bias among election officials and pre-poll rigging in favor of Musharraf-backed candidates.

“An independent judiciary is vital for people to have an avenue to contest the results of this election conducted in an environment of bias and intimidation,’’ said Adams.

Human Rights Watch urged Brown to press Musharraf to rescind these measures, seek an independent election commission and a neutral caretaker government to oversee elections.

“Brown should tell Musharraf to immediately release the detained judges and lawyers,” said Adams. “The UK’s notable failure to press for the reinstatement of an independent judiciary is alienating Pakistan’s people at Britain’s expense.”

Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for the UK’s Scotland Yard to withdraw from a flawed Pakistani investigation into the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Bhutto. The government inquiry lacks independence, transparency and credibility among the Pakistani population, Human Rights Watch said.

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