Pakistan

Zaki, 40, had been publicly critical of extremist cleric Abdul Aziz and militant sectarian groups. Zaki had been receiving threats and had confided to friends that he was on several militant. [The Hakeemullah group, a relatively unknown faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the murder in a phone call to Reuters, saying that Zaki was targeted because of his stance against Abdul Aziz. However, Pakistani authorities and others have expressed skepticism at this claim.]

However, the Pakistani government has generally failed to take a clear stand against intimidation and violence by militant groups or defend the right to freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said:HRW_logo
  • On April 25, Pakistani authorities banned “Among the Believers,” an internationally screened and award-winning documentary about the Red Mosque in Islamabad and the radicalization of students studying in the seminary. They said, “the film projects a negative image of Pakistan in the context of ongoing fight against extremism and terrorism.” The film’s co-director, Muhammad Naqvi, said in a press statement that besides following Abdul Aziz and his Red Mosque network over five years, “the film features the stories of Pakistanis that have never been shared before… Censoring these stories is what really damages the image of Pakistan.
  • On April 21, the authorities also banned another documentary film, Besieged in Quetta, about the violence against the Hazara Shia community in Quetta.
  • The principal planner of the assassination of rights defender Sabeen Mahmud in April 2015 later said that he killed her because “she was generally promoting liberal, secular values. There were those campaigns of hers, the demonstration outside Lal Masjid [Red Mosque], Pyaar ho jaane do [let there be love] on Valentine’s Day and so on.” Zaki was part of the same demonstrations outside the Red Mosque.
  • In May 2014, Rashid Rehman, a human rights activist and lawyer, was assassinated in an apparent reprisal for his willingness to represent people charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

An example of a human rights defender working in the area of minorities and land rights is Ms. Perveen Rehman, who was killed over 3 years ago, on 13 March 2013 [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/pakistan-gone-mad-says-regional-human-rights-organisation-after-murder-of-perveen-rehman/]. On 24 March 2016, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reported on the “non-progress” in the government’s efforts to investigate:

Initially, the Sindh police stated that Ms. Rehman was assassinated by Deobandi militants of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ), the same militants responsible for the deaths of the four lady anti-polio workers and the attack on Malala Yusufzai. Some days later the police killed one terrorist, Qari Bilal, of the ASWJ, in a police encounter, and claimed that he was the murderer of Ms. Rehman. The murder case was then closed.  Different civil society organisations held a press conference rejecting the police version however, and filed a petition in the Supreme Court in July 2013 for impartial inquiry into Ms. Rehman’s case. For the past three years, the Sindh police have simply been using delaying and misleading tactics to obfuscate their poor investigation. 

In March 2015, Sindh police arrested Mr. Puppo Kashmiri from Mansehra, Punjab province and claimed that he was the murderer of Ms. Rehman. In court, Puppo confessed to murdering many people, but not Ms. Rehman. He said he had heard the conversation of an influential land grabber, Rahim Swati, who noted that Ms. Rehman is creating big hurdles in his business and must be eliminated.  Police then conducted raids to find Swati, but could not find him and reported to the court that he has left his place. When the court ordered his arrest, the police took his son in custody in September 2015. Since then he is in illegal detention without being charged or produced in court. Civil society organisations claim this was an arrangement between the Sindh police and the alleged murderer.  During the last hearing of the Supreme Court on 16 March 2016, the police stated that they are conducting raids on Swati’s hideouts, but Swati is out of reach. The Supreme Court rejected this statement and ordered the Sindh Inspector General of Police to conduct the investigation by himself, arrest the alleged murderer, and produce Swati in the next hearing. 

The AHRC adds that: “This case reveals the total collapse of rule of law in Pakistan, and the failure of its criminal justice system, which gives free rein to the perpetrators. No government, whether previous or incumbent, has shown interest to reform or modernize the criminal justice system. The country’s higher courts, including the Supreme Court, have also failed to make any reforms in the lower courts, or in the system of prosecution. The nexus between police, prosecution and judiciary has created a system where everything except justice is possible. Perveen Rehman’s killing is a message to human rights defenders that they are not invulnerable, and that anyone who works for the benefit of the underprivileged, does so at their own risk.

On 8 April the same NGO reported that in Pakistan, the brother of missing journalist Zeenat Shahzadi committed suicide on March 24, after losing hope of finding his sister. Shahzadi disappeared on 19 August 2015 on her way to work, and since then her whereabouts are unknown. (AHRC TV YouTube).

A cynic would conclude that there is at least consistency with Pakistan’s stand in the UN against the UN Resolution on Human Rights Defenders [as reported in: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/follow-up-on-the-human-rights-defenders-resolution-in-the-un/]!