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Pakistan: Urgent appeal issued for detained lawyers

Amnesty International has issued an “urgent action” appeal on behalf of detained lawyers in Pakistan following the recent crackdown.

The appeal comes on behalf of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Atizaz Ahsan, former SCBA presidents Tariq Mahmood and Munir A Malik, and many other lawyers arbitrarily arrested and detained without charge or trial in Pakistan.

Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to immediately release these men and all others arrested under preventive detention measures if not charged with a recognisably criminal offence or where they have been detained for the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association or assembly. The organisation is also urging the Pakistani authorities to ensure that none of them is tortured or otherwise ill-treated.

At least some of the detentions have come under new laws now in force as part of the emergency rule imposed by General Musharraf on 3 November. Shortly after the imposition of a state of emergency, police and intelligence agencies began mass arrests of lawyers, human rights activists and other perceived opponents of the government.

According to media and other reports, hundreds of lawyers have been arrested nationwide, particularly in the cities of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Rawalpindi, where many had been protesting peacefully against the state of emergency and the removal of senior judges. The security forces have been shown beating some of the lawyers on television report, while teargas was fired at protestors in Lahore and Karachi.

Many of the lawyers detained are being held for 90 days under the Maintenance of Public Order law. People detained under this or other preventive detention laws are usually arrested arbitrarily, often held incommunicado and are at risk abuse by law enforcement officials. Sources have told Amnesty International that some lawyers have been handed over to the intelligence services, where they are thought to be at particularly serious risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

Under the Provisional Constitutional Order, which suspended the bulk of the Pakistani constitution, existing members of the superior judiciary are effectively suspended until they take a new oath to uphold the PCO. Only five of 17 Supreme Court Justices have reported to have taken the oath. Meanwhile, many Supreme Court and Provincial High Court Justices are now effectively under house arrest.

By 5 November, hundreds of lawyers, human rights activists and political workers had been arrested or arbitrarily detained across Pakistan. The Office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan was raided by a large police contingent on 3 November and around 70 human rights activists were arrested. They have been charged with unlawful assembly under public order provisions and initially detained in Kot Lakhpat jail, Lahore. They include senior citizens many of whom suffer from ill health. Amongst those under house arrest is the Chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion Asma Jahangir. Her house has been declared a sub-jail where she will be detained for 90 days under preventive detention laws.

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