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Friday, December 08, 2006

Amnesty International Reports Growing Anger in Pakistan at Enforced Disappearances

Despite growing anger in Pakistan at the practice of enforced disappearances, the government has still not acknowledged its responsibility for hundreds of people arbitrarily detained in secret locations -- and reports of enforced disappearance continue to emerge, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

In a week of demonstrations organized by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) against enforced disappearances, Amnesty International is releasing an update to its September report that reveals new cases and describes how families searching for their relatives have begun to organize themselves into protest groups.

"The Pakistani government needs to treat this issue with the gravity and urgency it deserves -- we are talking not only about the fate of hundreds of people but also the devastating effect on their families. The situation involves serious breaches of international law," says Angelika Pathak, South Asia researcher at Amnesty International.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf dismissed the September report out of hand, refusing to reply when questioned on it by a BBC journalist. Other government officials were similarly offhand. Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan told Amnesty International delegates that legal procedures were too longwinded to be followed in Pakistan in a political context in which results were needed quickly.

"Politics, economics, security -- all have variously been given as excuses as to why the government needs to break international law. But there is never an excuse for violating human rights. Human rights are the bedrock -- the starting point for approaching politics and security," says Pathak.

The day Amnesty International released its report -- Sept. 29 -- magazine editor Abdur Rahim Muslim Dost was arrested as he left a mosque in Peshawar. His fate and whereabouts are still unknown. He had just published a book describing how he was arrested by Pakistani military in 2001, transferred into U.S. custody and detained in Guantanamo Bay. The book recounted his torture in Pakistani and U.S. custody.

Family members continued to face harassment even as parliamentarians, lawyers and NGOs gathered for a workshop organized by the HRCP and Amnesty International in Islamabad in early October. At least one relative was stopped by intelligence agents on the morning of the workshop and questioned as to why he was attending it.

Abid Raza Zaidi, a researcher at Karachi University, was detained by Military Intelligence agents after giving a speech at the workshop. He said he was taken to the Red Fort in Lahore and threatened with dire consequences if he spoke publicly about his experiences again. In his speech he had described being detained for over three months without charge and being beaten to make him confess to taking part in a suicide bomb attack at Nishtar Park in April 2006. Abid Raza Zaidi was not charged and was released after 24 hours at the intervention of the HRCP.
Several people subjected to enforced disappearances have reappeared in recent weeks after being arbitrarily detained in secret locations for over two years on average. Each was warned not to speak publicly about their experiences and detention.

"Of course the Pakistani government has a duty to protect people from security threats. At the same time it must follow national and international law in doing so -- anyone suspected of terrorism should be charged, given access to a lawyer and their family, and given a fair trial," says Pathak.

"To prevent anyone else being subjected to enforced disappearance, the government must set up a central register of detainees and publish regular lists of all recognized places of detention."

For more information on enforced disappearances and the use of torture in the war on terror, please see Amnesty International's report, "Pakistan: Human rights ignored in the 'war on terror.'"


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