Pakistan: urgent appeal for quintet held after speaking out against Musharraf

Group of politicians and trade unionists at risk of torture and ill-treatment

Amnesty International today demanded the release of five men being held in Pakistan.

The five include three politicians and one trade unionist, and were arrested on charges of sedition and rioting after speaking out last week against the imposition of emergency rule by General Pervez Musharraf nine days ago.

Amnesty believes all five are at risk of torture or ill treatment.

In the context of the current climate, the charges against the men appear to be politically motivated in an effort to suppress their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

The five are Ayub Qureshi, provincial chief of the Baluch National Party; Ghulum Farid Awan, a political activist; Hasil Bizenjo, a Baluch nationalist leader and former parliamentarian; Yusuf Mastikhan, Vice President of the National Workers Party and a trade union leader; and Liaquat Ali Sahi.

Amnesty International has called on its members to send letters to General Pervez Musharraf via his website ( www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/WTPresidentMessage.aspx ); Mr Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, the Minister for the Interior ( minister@interior.gov.pk ; and Mr Zahid Hamid, the Minister of Law Justice and Human Rights ( minister@molaw.gov.pk raising concerns for the five.

All five have been active in campaigns to assert the interests and protect the rights of the people of Baluchistan province.

The group have been remanded in police custody in Karachi until 19 November.

Background


· The men were arrested on 6 November in Karachi, after participating in a civil society meeting at the Karachi Press club to protest against the imposition of emergency rule. They were presented before a magistrate court on 8 November and were remanded in judicial custody until 19 November.

· Acting in his capacity as army chief of staff, on 3 November General Musharraf suspended the bulk of the Constitution, including the rights to a fair trial. He assumed powers to amend the Constitution without any parliamentary procedure and proclaimed a Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). This order prohibits any court issuing an order against the President, Prime Minister or any person exercising powers under their authority.

· The PCO and the new oath of office for the superior judiciary effectively rendered the position of existing judges invalid. The majority of the Supreme Court and Higher Court judges declined to take the new oath, resulting in their removal from service. Many of them are now under house arrest.

· Since the imposition of emergency, police and law enforcement agencies have arrested thousands of lawyers, political activists and human rights defenders. On Monday 5 November, more than 300 lawyers were arrested in Lahore and have been charged under Pakistan's anti-terrorism laws. They have since been detained in city jails across the country. There have been mass arrests, into the thousands, of political opponents across the country.

· Independent TV and Radio news channels have been prevented from broadcasting within the country since Saturday. New laws restricting freedom of print and electronic media were issued, breach of which attracts three to four years imprisonment and heavy fines. Two daily newspapers have been issued with notices to refrain from publishing materials which violate the new press laws.

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