Mayo 27, 2007

Pakistan’s “disappeared” stir up anger at Musharraf


27 May 2007

ISLAMABAD - When Adeela Munir finally got permission to see her brother at a secret location in Rawalpindi city, she says she found him in a pathetic state. He was hallucinating, disorientated and appeared to have been tortured.

Munir, 27, is just one of hundreds of Pakistan’s ”disappeared” — men detained without charge by the shadowy police and intelligence agencies.

Families of some of those missing gathered at the Supreme Court in Islamabad on Friday for the latest hearing in their fight to discover the fate of their loved ones.

It is a complex legal battle with growing political significance as military ruler President Pervez Musharraf faces major social unrest eight years after he seized power.

The public disorder, including deadly riots in Karachi two weeks ago, stems from Musharraf’s suspension of Pakistan’s top judge Iftikhar Muhammud Chaudhry, who has pushed authorities to reveal information about the missing.

Speaking outside court on Friday, Adeela Munir described how her brother was picked up in July 2006 by “the agencies,” as Pakistan’s intelligence services are universally known.

“He was with my father in Islamabad,” she said. “Imran got a call telling him to report to the agencies. He had no reason to fear anything, so he went along. That was when he was taken.”

His family heard nothing until the authorities recently admitted to holding Imran and, after a court order, two weeks ago an army officer drove Adeela in a blacked-out car to see him.

“He was afraid and weak. At first he did not recognise me,” said Adeela.

“He is being tortured inside, we are being tortured outside. They say he is a spy, but he has never been charged,” she told AFP. ”The agencies are above the law.”

The family suspect Imran was targeted over rumours he was having an affair with a relative of a senior ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence) agent.

If so, Imran is one of many men taken by the ISI, which is alleged to have used Pakistan’s role in the US-led “war on terror” to pursue an agenda of revenge, control and suppression of opposition voices.

Some of those detained are thought to have been taken into US custody in Guantanamo Bay, others are thought to be Baluchistan separatists, government opponents, on the ISI’s own hit list, or cases of mistaken identity.

The close links between the government, the ISI and the disappearances are exemplified by evidence given to the Supreme Court on Friday by Amna Masood.

Her husband, businessman Masood Janjua, has not been seen since July 30, 2005, when he left the family home in Rawalpindi to catch a bus to Peshawar.

Amna told the court that after influential family members begged authorities for news, Musharraf’s military secretary telephoned to assure them that Janjua was alive, but could give no further information.

Amna, who now leads a group of families of the “disappeared”, said outside the court: “President Musharraf promised he was going to help. My husband was picked up by mistake, but once the ISI have started, they can’t back down.

“Our three children are desperately missing their father. He was very religious but not interested in politics at all.”

Amna believes her husband was picked up in a major Pakistani security sweep enacted after the July 7 suicide bombings on the London transport network, just three weeks before he vanished.

She directly linked Chaudhry’s championing of the “disappeared” to his suspension by Musharraf on charges of alleged misconduct — a move that triggered the riots that have shaken Musharraf’s hold on power.

“The chief justice has been strong for us. Last year he ordered the ISI to come to court and give answers, but they never came,” she said.

Amna’s campaign group, which started with just two families making a street protest, now represents the relatives of 159 missing people. None has ever appeared in court.

I.A. Rahman, who is the director of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan: “In the name of the so-called war against terror many people have been detained arbitrarily and also sent abroad without legal procedures.

“It is a national stigma and an indication of anarchy.”

The government recently told the court that nearly 100 missing people had been traced so far and efforts were underway to find the rest.

It denies allegations of torture.

“There are people listed as missing but they have joined militant organisations,” Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema told AFP. “The government has nothing to hide and is fully cooperating with the court.”

Despite there being no victory in sight, Harron Mehdi still hopes the legal process will bring back his brother, Mansroor Mehdi, 24, a computer programmer from Peshawar who disappeared in September 2004.

“People tell us he is being kept by the ISI,” said Harron. “He left the house and said he would be back in two days. I don’t know why he was picked up. Perhaps it was because he had a beard.

“I think the court can help. I pray that one day I will see my brother again.”

Posted by marga at Mayo 27, 2007 6:29 PM | TrackBack
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