UPDATE: Pakistan: Protest against the state of emergency in Pakistan and brutal attacks on civil society

"General Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan on Saturday November 3, 2007 and imposed the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) that suspends the Constitution and the fundamental rights of citizens, gags the media and forbids any form of dissent. This has drastically upset the already frail political setup prevalent in the country.
The two critical reasons declared by the General for the state of emergency are: the deteriorating law and order situation and the rise of militancy, and the increasing interference of judiciary in government policies.

The first targets under emergency have been the civil society, human rights activists, journalists and especially lawyers. Thousands have been arbitrarily arrested or picked up without any charges.

Human rights activists detained

On November 4, 2007, law enforcement officials carried out a crackdown on civil society. In Lahore, around 53 activists – 25 women, 28 men – were arrested from the Joint Action Committee (JAC) meeting held at the premises of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to discuss the emergency rule in the country. Prominent among those arrested were HRCP director I A Rehman and secretary general Iqbal Haider. They were charged under the Maintenance of Public Order 1960.

After more than 48 hours, a special judicial magistrate granted bail to the detained persons at 9.00 pm on November 6, 2007. The surety bonds for the bail were submitted.

Crackdown on lawyers

Police baton-charged and detained hundreds of lawyers demonstrating across Pakistan against the imposition of emergency on November 5, 2007. Some 800 lawyers were arrested in Lahore alone. About 150 Karachi lawyers were sent to jail, amid reports of them being gravely mishandled. As a result, a large number of them feared threats against their lives and professional careers.

However, 340 Lahore lawyers have been sent to jail on judicial remand until November 10. Among those granted bail were three women - Lahore High Court Bar Association (LCHBA) Vice President Firdous Butt, Finance Secretary LCHBA Rubya Hayat, Abida Chaudary - and a senior lawyer Muhammed Sulman.

The lawyers have been arrested under multiple offences; under Sections 186, 353 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) (providing punishment for assault or criminal force to obstruct public servant in discharge of functions-bailable), Section 324 of PPC (attempt to intentional murder-non bailable) and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 (non bailable). There are fears that they will be punished with imprisonment up to ten years.

Legal counsels seeking bail applications for the detained lawyers were not permitted to enter the court premises.

There have also been reported instances of harassment of family members of human rights activists and lawyers by the law enforcement agencies.

Defiant judges under house arrest

The superior court judges who refused to take oath under PCO have been confined to their residences while some of them are also being pressurized to take oath under the newly proclaimed order.

Media gagged

Immediately after the imposition of the emergency rule, the government took all private electronic news channels off air, and new terms were dictated to restrict free access to information. To silence the media, the authorities threaten to impose punishment of up to three years for criticizing the military.

We demand that:

* the proclamation of emergency be immediately revoked and the Constitution reinstated with all the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution;

* free and fair elections be held and complete transition to democracy and civilian rule be ensured without further violence and delays;

* curbs on electronic and print media be withdrawn and the citizens be allowed free access to information;

* charges against the human rights activists be dropped and their security and protection be ensured in future;

* lawyers be released and all alleged charges against them dropped, also their security be guaranteed."

Shirkat Gah - Women's Resource Centre

Shirkat Gah