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Home Amnesty International Report on Pakistan for 1999
Amnesty International

Excerpts from Amnesty International
Annual Report for the year 1999


Dozens of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were detained, some without charge or trial. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be widespread, leading to at least 50 deaths in custody. Floggings continued to be carried out. At least 120 possible extrajudicial executions were reported. At least 428 people were sentenced to death and at least four were executed. State officials colluded in abuses by private individuals and religious groups. Armed opposition groups were responsible for deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians.

The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared a national emergency and suspended fundamental rights after conducting nuclear tests in May. In July the Supreme Court restored fundamental rights, declaring their suspension unjustified.

Law and order problems persisted as sectarian violence between the majority Sunni and the minority Shi'a communities, mainly in Punjab province, and fighting between different ethnic and religious groups in Karachi, led to more than 600 deaths. The government continued to resort to mass arbitrary arrests and detention, usually of short duration.

The Supreme Court ruled in May that 12 sections of the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act were unconstitutional and therefore void. It directed the federal government to amend them “suitably”, but held that cases concluded by special courts set up under the Act should not be reopened and pending cases should be concluded. In October an ordinance was promulgated to amend the Act in accordance with Supreme Court directions.

The 15th constitutional amendment bill, passed by the National Assembly in September, was pending in the Senate at the end of the year. The amendment would make Islamic law supreme, authorizing the executive to issue directives “to prescribe what is good and to forbid what is wrong” irrespective of constitutional provisions or judicial precedent. Human rights groups warned that constitutionally secured fundamental rights, particularly those of women and minorities, would be at risk if the bill were passed.

In October the government of Sindh province was dismissed. In November the army was asked to assist police in law and order operations. Military courts were set up to try summarily civilians suspected of disturbing law and order.

In April the Supreme Court, responding to an appeal by the government of Sindh against the Sindh High Court judgment banning the use of bar fetters, allowed their use subject to police and judicial direction in each case.

Recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry for Women, which had submitted a report in 1997, were not implemented. The government announced its intention to establish a national human rights commission but no bill to that effect was produced.

At least 106 members of the Ahmadiyya community were charged with religious offences; of these, 28 were charged with blasphemy under Section 295-c of the Penal Code, which carries a mandatory death penalty. Twenty-three of the Ahmadis were prisoners of conscience.
In April an Ahmadi doctor from Badin, Sindh province, was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court. He was convicted of falsely stating that 23 illiterate people whom he helped fill in census forms were Ahmadis. He was a prisoner of conscience.

Two Christians were charged with blasphemy for allegedly desecrating posters bearing Islamic words during demonstrations which followed the suicide of the Bishop of Faisalabad, John Joseph, in protest against the continued abuse of the blasphemy laws.

The trial resumed in February of Riaz Ahmed Chowdhury and three of his relatives from Mianwali, Punjab (see previous Amnesty International Reports AI Report for 1997), all Ahmadi men who had been detained on blasphemy charges since 1993. The Supreme Court had granted them bail in late December 1997.

Other prisoners of conscience included dozens of people arrested after instances of sectarian violence even though there appeared to be no evidence against them. Others were detained without charge or trial as hostages when relatives suspected of criminal offences could not be found, or to extract money from them. During mass opposition rallies, up to hundreds of participants were arrested; they were usually released within hours or days. Some opposition politicians were held without charge or trial. On 18 January Shaukat Ali Kashmiri, a lawyer and leader of the United Kashmir People's National Party, was abducted by armed men in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Upon his release in August, he stated that he had been held in different detention centres by an intelligence agency.

Torture, including rape, in police custody and jails remained widespread, resulting in at least 50 deaths. Following his arrest on a robbery charge on 1 April in Multan, Gul Khan was allegedly tortured and denied food for 10 days; on 11 April he was taken to a health care centre which certified that he was in good health, reportedly under pressure from police. When he was admitted to hospital the same day he vomited blood. On 12 April a judicial magistrate signed Gul Khan's discharge certificate while ignoring his critical condition. He died on the same day. Criminal charges were filed against seven police officers and a judicial inquiry was set up. However, when police agreed to pay Gul Khan's family 800,000 rupees (us$16,000) compensation, his family dropped the charges and the inquiry was stopped. Impunity is facilitated in Pakistan by the law of qisas and diyat, which allows victims and their families to accept compensation and stop criminal prosecution.

Children were particularly at risk of torture and ill-treatment. In May an eight-year-old boy was allegedly raped by a constable inside a police station in Peshawar. After public protests, police officers registered a complaint against their colleague, but reportedly used sections of the criminal code likely to lessen the punishment.

Flogging sentences continued to be imposed for offences tried under Islamic law provisions. In July Saba Khan was administered 30 lashes in Shangla after serving two and a half years in prison for rape.

Perpetrators of abuses often faced only mild disciplinary action; no state official was convicted of human rights violations. In April a suspected thief, Shahzad Ali, suffered severe burn injuries when a police officer in Gujjarpura set his clothes on fire to make him confess. No action was taken against the officer, who claimed that the detainee had tried to immolate himself to avoid interrogation. A police officer who had severely beaten an elderly prayer leader in Gojra, Punjab province, in July had his service record reduced by two years.

Abuses against judicial officers increased. In March, two civil judges in Karampur, who had searched police premises and questioned the arbitrary detention of several people found there, were reportedly severely beaten by police. Several police officers were arrested, but the case remained pending. The judge of an anti-terrorism court in Sargodha who had convicted senior police officials of dereliction of duty, including falsifying evidence and torture, was held hostage in court by local police in January until the convicted officials had escaped.

Police often actively covered up abuses, particularly against the vulnerable and disadvantaged, and continued to deny women and girls equal protection of the law. In March a 14-year-old schoolgirl complained to police of gang-rape by four government officials in Peshawar. Police registered her complaint only after her father filed a petition in the provincial high court. The father was arrested and briefly detained when the main accused official claimed to have been threatened by him. In April, despite the provincial chief minister's reprimand that police were not investigating the case properly and in the face of the victim's complaint and medical evidence, the victim's father and the accused reached a compromise not to pursue the case against the main accused. They claimed that contradictions in the girl's initial statements indicated her unstable mental condition and unreliability as a complainant.

The whereabouts of people who “disappeared” in previous years remained unknown. No further steps were taken to trace four members of the Ansari family, who “disappeared” in May 1996 (see previous Amnesty International Reports). The senate committee investigating the fate of 28 members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (mqm), who “disappeared” around 1995, submitted its report to the Senate in April. In March the Interior Minister told the committee that 30 mqm workers had been arrested and killed near Islamabad under the previous government. The Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court in April asked the Interior Ministry for clarification, but no further steps were known to have been taken.

At least 120 possible extrajudicial executions were reported, mainly in Punjab province. Authorities claimed that the victims had died in exchanges of fire between police and “hardened criminals”. In at least 30 of these supposed “encounter killings”, the victims were reported to have been in police custody before being deliberately killed. In other cases, police shot dead criminal suspects rather than attempting to arrest them. In March police shot dead two men named Zahid and Umer in Lahore in what they claimed was a shoot-out. Relatives stated that Zahid had been arrested three days earlier on a robbery charge and had been seen in a police station at Shafiqabad.

Hearings in the case relating to the killing of Mir Murtaza Bhutto and seven associates in September 1996 resumed in May in Karachi Central Jail (see previous Amnesty International Reports). After charges had been brought against Senator Asif Zardari and 18 officials in July 1997, the case was transferred to an anti-terrorism court in October 1997, then to a district and sessions judge. However, several judges refused to preside, leading to long delays. Most of the accused remained in detention. By April only two of 223 witnesses had been heard.

At least 428 people were sentenced to death, including 113 sentenced by anti-terrorism courts and six by military courts following procedures which fell short of international standards for fair trial. Ayub Masih, a Christian man from Pakpattan, was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a sessions court in Sahiwal in April; observers believed that the charge was brought on the basis of a land dispute. An appeal was pending.

At least four people were executed. One of them, Maqsood Ahmad, had been sentenced to death in 1994 for the murder of a businessman in 1989; a police officer later declared that two other men had confessed to the murder. Despite appeals, the case was not reopened. Maqsood Ahmad was hanged in Lahore in March. Mehram Ali, sentenced for killing 26 people in a bomb attack on a Lahore court, was executed in August in Jang district jail.

In June the then Chief of Army staff commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence against an Indian national Roop Lal, who had been sentenced 25 years earlier by court martial and since then held in solitary confinement.

Among the 2,750 people who remained under sentence of death, around 50 were juveniles at the time of the alleged offence. In December a summary military court in Karachi sentenced to death a 13-year-old boy for murder; his appeal was due to be heard in January 1999.

Police continued to register criminal charges against women who married men of their choice without the consent of their male guardians, despite judgments of the higher judiciary that women have a right to do so. Police inadequately protected such couples against violent attacks by male relatives of the woman. In February a Pashtun jirga (tribal council) threatened to kill Riffat Afridi and Kunwar Ahsan who had not obtained Riffat Afridi's father's consent to marry. The father registered a complaint of abduction against Kunwar Ahsan and charges of zina (fornication) against both. The couple went into hiding, but were arrested within days. In late February Riffat Afridi was released, but in March Kunwar Ahsan was shot and critically injured in the court building by Riffat Afridi's relatives. Local human rights groups claim that police protection was inadequate.

Police did not apparently take any protective measures when religious groups in September and October issued fatwas offering rewards for anyone killing human rights activists, journalists and religious personalities, including the head of the Ahmadiyya community.

Armed opposition groups pursuing ethnic or religious causes continued to deliberately kill civilians. In January, 24 mourners gathered in a Shi'a graveyard in Lahore were killed and over 50 injured by sectarian opponents. A Sunni group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (Warriors of Jhangvi), claimed responsibility.

In January Amnesty International appealed to the authorities to reveal the whereabouts of Shaukat Ali Kashmiri following his “disappearance” after arrest. After the imposition of the emergency in May, Amnesty International called on the government to immediately restore fundamental rights.

In a report published in April, Children in South Asia: Securing their rights, Amnesty International documented human rights violations against children in Pakistan and other countries of the region and the failure of the government to fulfil its obligations under the un Convention on the Rights of the Child. In September Amnesty International published Pakistan: No progress on women's rights, highlighting the government's failure to amend discriminatory laws and improve practices affecting women.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: This report is an extract from the Amnesty International Report 1998 and is copyright (c) Amnesty International Publications. You may not alter this information, repost or sell it without the permission of Amnesty International. The complete edition of the Report, covering more than 140 countries and territories, is published in several languages. If there is an Amnesty International sectionsor, in case of difficulty, from the International Secretariat order a copy here.

Published with permission from Angelika Pathak, Researcher, South Asia team, Amnesty Int'l.

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