Pakistan - Country of Concern: latest update, 30 September 2014

0.1 Latest Update: 30 September 2014

There continued to be wide-ranging human rights concerns throughout this period, and little evidence of any reversal in previous trends.

In our previous update, published in July, we reported the Senate’s discussion of the Protection of Pakistan Citizens Act. In July, the National Assembly voted in a one-day special session to accept the act with Senate amendments. The act aims to tackle militancy, and the amendments made provide some human rights safeguards, including greater judicial oversight and a time-limited period of application. Under the act, suspects may be held for questioning for 60 days instead of the current limit of 15. One political party, Jamaat-i-Islami, sought to challenge the law in the Supreme Court, citing violations of citizens’ fundamental rights. The UK government continues to urge the Pakistani authorities to ensure that implementation of the legislation complies with international human rights standards.

In August, Human Rights Watch called on the government to rescind both the suspension of fundamental rights and the granting of a law enforcement role to the military in Islamabad. There are concerns that the powers given to the military risk misuse in the face of ongoing large-scale political protests; however, we have not seen evidence of misuse of these powers since August.

Reports of disappearances and extrajudicial killings continue. In September, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, an NGO, made a written submission to the UN Human Rights Council alleging incidents of extrajudicial killing throughout Pakistan, and media outlets have published articles regarding the discovery of suspected victims of extrajudicial killing in Balochistan.

As we also reported in the previous update, in June, the government of Pakistan launched a major operation to clear North Waziristan of militants. The area was largely evacuated of civilians before the operation, and currently more than one million people are registered as internally displaced as a result. However, only 580,000 of these have been verified and are receiving cash assistance from the government. A further 112,000 people have reportedly crossed the border into Afghanistan. The UK is providing significant assistance in this area: the Department for International Development operates a £7 million programme in Pakistan for those displaced within the country, and is delivering an additional £4.7 million to help the most vulnerable.

As of 29 September, serious flooding in the Kashmir and Punjab regions had affected around two million Pakistanis, with more than 300 reported dead. The government and military have provided relief to many of those affected. The UK stands ready to support the government’s efforts if required.

In the last three months, there were two major incidents of human rights concern linked to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In July, a man found guilty of writing blasphemous remarks on the wall of a Lahore park was sentenced to death and, in September, a policeman entered the prison cell of British national Mohammad Asghar and shot and seriously wounded him. Mr Asghar, who has a documented history of mental illness in the UK, was arrested last year in Pakistan on a charge of blasphemy; he has been tried under Pakistani law and sentenced to death.

Death sentences continued to be handed down for other offences, including a murder case in August. A man sentenced to death for murder in 1996 was scheduled to be executed on 18 September, but this has been stayed pending the outcome of an appeal hearing currently scheduled for October.

Journalists came under further attacks in the last three months. In July, Express News TV’s bureau chief in Peshawar was targeted with an improvised explosive device. This was the third attack on his house since March. Members of the local media community protested outside the Governor’s House about the lack of police protection. Also in July, a television journalist in Rawalpindi complained to police that he had received death threats from the Pakistani Taleban (TTP) and, in August, the Press Club in Khuzdar, Balochistan, was forced to close for ten days following threats to journalists. In a more hopeful development, a court dismissed a case lodged against Geo TV for broadcasting a “sacrilegious” programme.

Minorities continue to be targeted. An Ahmadiyya businessman was shot dead in July in Nawabshah and four Ahmadiyya men from Badin were charged with preaching their faith. At the end of July, an Ahmadiyya woman and two children were killed in Gujranwala when a mob set fire to houses following accusations of Ahmadiyyas posting blasphemous content on social media sites. Hindus in Hyderabad protested in July that local politicians and land mafia had been regularly harassing them to acquire temple land. Following the murder of two Hindu businessmen in Umerkot, a National Assembly special committee was empowered to investigate alleged murders, kidnappings and attacks on temples. At the end of July, two Hazara boys were found killed on a road in Quetta.

Sectarian killings were reported with greater regularity in the last three months. Shia and Sunni Muslims, including members of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM) religious parties, were killed in Karachi and Rawalpindi. In July, six men were found murdered at a shrine in Karachi, reportedly by Taleban-linked militants. On 10 September, Maulana Masood, son-in-law of Mufti Muhammad Naeem, was killed by unknown assailants in Karachi. Mufti Naeem is the head of one of the biggest Deobandi madrassas (Islamic seminaries) in Pakistan. On 21 September, Mufti Amanullah Khan, a Deobandi cleric, was shot dead by unknown assailants. Soon after the incident, protesters demonstrating against the killing of Mufti Amanullah attacked an Imambargah (Shia congregation hall) nearby. Protesters alleged the involvement of Shias in the killing of the Mufti. The Deputy Secretary General of pro-Shia party, Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), is being interrogated by police for this murder case.

This last incident occurred at the same location where Sunni-Shia riots, leading to the deaths of ten people, took place during last year’s Ashura (major festival for Shia Muslims). According to media reports, eye witnesses said that police were unwilling to control the mob torching the Imambargah.

On 18 September, Dr Muhammad Shakeel Auj, Dean of the Islamic Studies Department at Karachi University, was shot dead in his car. Dr Auj was considered a liberal scholar, and news reports suggest he was killed following accusations of blasphemy. Four of his colleagues are being investigated by police for perpetrating accusations of blasphemy. Reportedly, around the same time, a religious seminary in Karachi issued a fatwa against Dr Auj, accusing him of blasphemy and calling for his death.

There were also further violent attacks on women throughout this period. Couples and women were murdered in so-called “honour killings” in Mansehra, Nowshera, Shikarpur, Karachi, Sialkot, Faisalabad and numerous other locations across Pakistan. Three separate acid attacks on women and girls were reported in Balochistan in July. In the same month, Prime Minister David Cameron and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) hosted the Girl Summit, which addressed child, early and forced marriages. In Pakistan nearly half of all marriages involve girls younger than 18, and 70% of girls are married before the age of 16.