All change in Cuba and Pakistan

Its all go in the Amnesty press office today as two bits of breaking news filter through.

Theres the news that Fidel Castro is to step down as president of Cuba, and then theres wholesale change in Pakistan as the election results trickle in.

Firstly, Cuba. Absolutely every media outlet has gone bonkers over it. The BBCs website gave the story the biggest headline that anyone in the media team can ever remember and by mid-morning it was all over the world and the nations media.

Castro actually chose to announce his resignation in a letter to the Cuban newspaper, Granma. The New York Times was on the case straight away, and even The Daily Mail had it on the front page of their website.

We at Amnesty also moved quickly. Though you wouldnt always know it given how he has been lauded by some on the left, Cuba under Fidel Castro has a pretty poor human rights record and a press release and media briefing has already gone out highlighting our concerns.

Top of our calls was for the new leadership to immediately release all prisoners of conscience. In a classic example of excellent timing, only yesterday we highlighted the 58 prisoners of conscience that remain in detention.

Our other concerns are over the independence of the judiciary, the freedom of expression and the abolition of the death penalty. As well as, of course, the long-held trade embargo imposed on the island by the United States.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, President Musharrafs political future hangs by a thread. His party the PML-Q was, as widely predicted, pushed into third place in yesterdays elections.

However, the scale of the defeat seems to have taken everyone by surprise with several of Musharrafs key allies losing their seats. Pakistans newspaper, The Dawn, led with a banner headline Heavyweights Knocked Out, while the Daily Times ran with All The Kings Men Gone.

The key now is whether the two main opposition parties, the PPPP and the PML-N, will take over two thirds of the seats in the National Assembly. If they do pass that milestone, the possibility of impeachment for Musharraf is firmly on the cards.

There is also a chance that several of the results could still face a legal challenge. The Pakistans Electoral Commission has already received thousands of complaints and that was before yesterdays ballot.

The BBC has on its website a clip of voters complaining about ballot-rigging being beaten by security forces, you can access it through the right-hand link on this page.

Meanwhile, all the main British newspapers have reports about irregularities, most notably The Guardian and The Telegraph.

On the plus side, it was heartening to hear that the leader of the PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, has pledged to push for the return of the independence of the judiciary if his party forms part of a new coalition government as The Independent reported this morning. Amnesty has been long making such calls and our hope is that the other main parties will also make a similar pledge.

It would be nice if they could also follow it up with a promise to end arbitrary arrests and detentions, forced disappearances and allow independence of the media and freedom of expression. Now where have I heard that before

So in the case of Cuba and Pakistan, its simply a case of fingers crossed for the future.

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