Nov 8, 2007

AHRC on Arrests Without Criminal Procedures

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: EMERGENCY - "Arrest" without criminal procedure and functioning courts is abduction

Since the government of General Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and blacked out the media on November 3, it has launched a massive operation to detain virtually anyone deemed a threat to military authority, making plain its real plans for the immediate future. The scale and scope of the detentions are unprecedented in the history of Pakistan, even with its atrocious record of dictators and intolerance of dissent.

So far, after some three days of protests and efforts to resist the latest takeover, about 3500 lawyers, 500 human rights defenders, 100 political workers, 46 judges--including the chief justice--and 12 journalists are among those known to have been held. Some have been taken under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance but most have been taken from the streets and their houses without serving notice of arrest or giving any reference to law whatsoever. The judges of superior courts have been literally locked inside their residences and told that they will be kept there until they agree to cooperate. They have had their phone lines cut and are being isolated from the outside world to force compliance.

Under the normal course of law if anybody is taken into custody by the police, be it on the street, at home or elsewhere, it is considered "arrest" because a procedure exists by which the case is documented, the person informed of the reasons for which they have been held, and within 24 hours they must be brought before a court of law where the arrestee has the right to challenge detention and if it is upheld, to seek bail.

But today in Pakistan the courts have been stopped from functioning by the state of emergency, the suspension of the constitution and the fact that dozens of judges and hundreds of lawyers are among those in custody. Thus no means exist to enforce criminal procedure or uphold fundamental rights by way of a legal challenge to arrest.

Under these circumstances, the "arrest" of these thousands of persons in Pakistan cannot be considered anything of the sort. Like the pretext for the state of emergency itself, the arrests are a fraud.

The Asian Human Rights Commission strongly supports the statement by the UN Secretary General for the government of Pakistan to release all the detainees immediately, and in addition it calls upon the United Nations and governments around the world to treat these persons as abducted, by force and contrary to law. It also calls for the immediate withdrawal of security forces from around the houses of judges and restoration of the courts, in the absence of which the rights of all persons awaiting trial are being flagrantly violated. It rejects unequivocally the declaration of emergency and stands unreservedly with all persons in Pakistan struggling to end military rule and return their country to some form of rational and civilised government. # # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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