Six United Nations human rights experts joined their voices today in a call for Pakistan to restore democratic rule and release leading judges, lawyers and others held in detention – including the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir.
“We are deeply alarmed at the imposition of the state of emergency in Pakistan and condemn the suspension of fundamental freedoms, including the right not to be deprived of one’s liberty, freedom of movement, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” said the group in a statement which followed expressions of concern expressed also by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials.
“The suspension of fundamental freedoms, in what appears to be an imposition of a state of emergency in breach of national laws and international standards, undermines the enjoyment of all sets of rights and affects all sectors of the population,” the group said, urging Pakistan “to return to democratic rule and to stop the ongoing escalation of human rights abuses.”
The statement was issued in Geneva by Gay J. McDougall, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders.
It voiced concern about Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of emergency powers in the context of countering terrorism and addressing extremism.
“We condemn the retaliation measures, including the abuse of the notion of terrorism, against those who are expressing their dissent against the imposition of the state of emergency. Considering the frequency of arbitrary detentions occurring during states of emergency, the exercise of power under such conditions must be in strict compliance with the principle of proportionality.
“In particular, we are extremely concerned about the detention and house arrest of leading judges, lawyers and human rights defenders.”
Among those being held is the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, who has been placed under house arrest for a period of 90 days, along with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and other members of the Supreme Court when they refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Provisional Constitutional Order, the statement notes. “We call for their immediate and unconditional release.”
The group also voiced alarm that a detention order remains in place against Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders. “We urge the authorities to immediately overturn this order.”
Condemning “the excessive use of force by the police, the brutal repression and the massive arrests that have occurred during demonstrations organized by lawyers to protest against the suspension of the Constitution,” the statement also raised concern about the pervasive restrictions placed on the media, particularly the suspension of broadcasts of all international and national privately owned channels, as well as the serious assaults inflicted upon journalists by members of the police and security forces.
“We urge the Government to fully remove all restrictions to the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom of the press.”
The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also voiced hope today that President Musharraf would lift restrictions on the media.
“I am concerned about the consequences of the emergency measures announced in Pakistan on the fundamental human right of freedom of expression,” said Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura in a statement released in Paris, where UNESCO is based.
“It is important that the citizens of Pakistan continue to have access to free information and sustain free and open debate. Freedom of expression and press freedom are integral to sustainable and peaceful democratic societies,” he declared.