Nov 15, 2007

Washington DC: Friday 16th Nov 2007- Congressional HR Caucus Briefing

Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC)


Pakistan – A Human Rights Update
Friday, November 16, 2007
11:30 am – 1:00pm
Room: 2255 Rayburn

Please join the Congressional Human Rights Caucus for a briefing on the escalating situation in Pakistan regarding democracy and human rights. The briefing will be held on Friday, November 16, 2007, at 11:30 in room 2255 Rayburn HOB. The briefing is open to the public and the media.

On November 3, 2007, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf suspended the country’s constitution and assumed emergency powers in his role as both president and army chief. The Proclamation of Emergency issued by Musharraf justified the suspension as necessary due to the country’s rapidly deteriorating security circumstances (“an unprecedented level of violent intensity posing a grave threat to the life and property of the citizens of Pakistan”) and to the allegedly negative role being played by the country’s judiciary, which was claimed to be “working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism thereby weakening the Government and the nation’s resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this menace.” According to the proclamation, the situation required “emergent and extraordinary measures.” A Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) was issued by Musharraf (in his role as army chief) on the same day pursuant to the emergency proclamation. The PCO requires, inter alia, that the country’s judiciary take a new oath of office, and it bars the judiciary from making any orders against the PCO or from taking any action against the President, the Prime Minister, or anyone acting under their authority. It also suspends a number of “Fundamental Rights” listed in Chapter One of the Pakistani Constitution. These include freedom from unlawful arrest and detention, and freedoms of movement, assembly, association, and speech. Seven Supreme Court justices, including the Chief Justice, and scores of High Court judges refused to take a new oath of office under the PCO and were summarily dismissed.

Among the most immediate effects of the emergency declaration was a harsh crackdown on Pakistan’s independent media outlets. Numerous private television and radio stations were blacked out in the wake of Musharraf’s announcement and a new government order was announced banning any media reports that “defame or bring ridicule” to the government or military. Violations of the order can bring a one-year prison sentence or a five million rupee ($82,000) fine. Moreover, as many as 1,800 opposition figures, human rights activists, and lawyers were rounded up and detained in the two days following the emergency proclamation. The U.S. government expressed “grave concern” about the crackdown, calling such “extreme and unreasonable measures” contradictory to the goal of a fully democratic Pakistan.
According to Amnesty International, the emergency rules triggered the arrest of hundreds of people on alleged terrorism charges, and “[t]he pattern of arrest and persecution of human rights activists, lawyers and the political party workers continues…” Under international pressure, President Musharraf announced that new parliamentary elections will be held in January 2008, but indicated on November 14th that these elections would be held with emergency rules still in place. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest twice under those rules to prevent her from organizing major rallies of her supporters. Other notable political leaders, such as Imran Khan have also been placed under arrest.

To discuss these important issues, we will welcome as expert witnesses:
T. Kumar, Amnesty International
· Tom Malinowski, Human Rights Watch
· Mohammad Akram Sheikh, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan
· Jennifer Leonard, International Crisis Group

We look forward to seeing you at this important briefing. If you have any questions, please call Sarah Burns (Rep. Lantos) at 202-225-3531 or Hillary Hosford (Rep. Wolf) at 202-225-5136. For media inquiries, please call Lynne Weil at 202-225-5021.

Tom Lantos, M.C. Frank R. Wolf, M.C.
Co-Chair, CHRC Co-Chair, CHRC

No comments: