Enforced disappearances, cases of torture, violence against women, media censorship and the harassment of ethnic and religious minorities continued relentlessly in Pakistan in 2019, said Amnesty International in a report.
The report titled Human Rights in Asia-Pacific: Review 2019 which was released on Thursday (Jan 30) contains the most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights in the region.
The report stated, Pakistani authorities in 2019 have tightened their control over freedom of expression, failed to uphold commitments to legislate against torture and enforced disappearances and managed to shrink the space for civil society to defend and promote human rights.
“It has become increasingly difficult to fight for human rights in Pakistan at a time when the authorities continue to forcibly disappear people, censor journalists, crack down on peaceful demonstrations and enforce repression through draconian laws,” said Omar Waraich, Deputy South Asia Director at Amnesty International.
“But 2019 also saw Pakistanis rise up and demand their rights, taking to the streets against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, for women’s rights and students’ rights, and for climate justice.”
Victims of enforced disappearances included political activists, students, journalists, human rights defenders and Shi’a Muslims, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Even as hundreds of disappeared people were released throughout 2019, no one was held to account for even one of them.
Political activists and journalists were targeted and charged under draconian laws, including the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), the Anti-Terrorism Act, and sections of the Penal Code on sedition and defamation. Media workers reported that they were experiencing a growing culture of censorship, coercion and harassment by the authorities.
Journalists faced charges such as “cyberterrorism”, “spreading false and abusive information”, and hate speech.
The authorities intensified the crackdown on the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which campaigns against human rights abuses – arresting and arbitrarily detaining dozens of its supporters, subjecting them to surveillance, intimidation, prosecution and threats of violence.
In February, Arman Luni, a PTM activist from Balochistan, died after being beaten by police officers following his participation in a peaceful protest in the Lorelai district. In the same month, Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, parliamentarians and PTM supporters, were detained as they led a procession. At least 13 people were killed, including three PTM supporters, when the procession was fired upon.
Gulalai Ismail, a woman human rights defender who campaigned against violence against women and enforced disappearances, was charged with sedition, terrorism and defamation in May. In August, she fled to the USA. Her family faced serious intimidation by the law enforcement authorities.
The blasphemy laws continued to be used to harass individuals and enable human rights violations in Pakistan. In December, Junaid Hafeez, a professor accused of blasphemy, was sentenced to death by a court in Multan. He has been imprisoned since 2013, spending much of that time in solitary confinement.
“Every effort must be made to protect people’s freedoms of expression, assembly and association as enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution as well as in its international obligations,” said Omar Waraich. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)