Julio 29, 2007

600 'disappeared' by Pakistani security forces, activist says

Sherwood Ross
Special to the Middle East Times
July 27, 2007

MIAMI, FL, USA -- Pakistan's security forces have "disappeared" about 600 individuals since 2002, acting since 9/11 and Guantanamo, as if "they have a free hand," human rights activist lawyer Asma Jahangir says.

The disappeared are "usually picked up by plainclothesmen in four-wheel drives ... [and] if the victims are ever seen again, they invariably say that they have been tortured with electric shocks, beaten, given injections, hung upside down by their ankles," Jahangir said.

Jahangir is described as "a symbol of freedom and defiance, comparable to Aung San Suu Kyi, in Burma " by historian William Dalrymple, who interviewed her for the July 23 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

Jahangir said that the military government of President Pervez Musharraf has "no direction, no plan, no schedule" and that, in terms of human rights, it is "worse than any civilian government we've ever had."

"Musharraf is rapidly losing the minimum respect that gives you the moral authority to rule a country," the activist lawyer said. "The sacking of the chief justice [Iftikhar Chaudhry March 9] was the final straw. If we lose this one, it is all over for the rule of law in this country."

Jahangir went on to say, "A return to democracy would certainly not be an instant miracle for this country. But it would be a start." She added, "However flawed democracy here is, it is still the only answer. Once there is a proper political movement, the religious parties will become marginalized. I am not at all gloomy. These protests [against Musharraf] have been a wake-up call."

"Musharraf's government has a civilian face - there are still elections and assemblies - and he has come to believe his own propaganda that he really is a democrat," Jahangir continued.

Political scientist Ayesha Siddiqa told Dalrymple, "There is a breakdown of effective government. The political parties have all failed to create an environment where the poor can get what they need from the state. The laws are always twisted for the rich ... So the poor have begun to look to alternatives for justice."

In her recent book, Military Inc., Siddiqa said that the Pakistani military has business assets of more than $20 billion, with interests ranging from cement and dredging to the manufacturer of corn flakes and the baking of bread, controls one-third of the nation's heavy manufacturing and owns nearly 12 million acres of land.

Author Dalrymple writes, "A cosmopolitan middle class is prospering, yet for the great majority of poorer Pakistanis life remains intolerably hard and access to justice or education is a distant hope: just 1.8 percent of Pakistan's GNP is spent on education."

He continued: "Instead of investing adequately in education, Musharraf's government is spending money on a fleet of American F-16s for the air force. Healthcare and other social services for the poor have also been neglected, in contrast to the public services that benefit the wealthy, such as highways and airports - many of which are world-class."

Despite the multiple shortcomings of the Musharraf regime, some Pakistanis are asking whether toppling him might not make a bad situation worse. Jugnu Mohsin, publisher of the Friday Times, who asked, "Is Asma naïve? It is true that the lawyers' movement, if it destroys Musharraf, could create more problems than it solves. The fall of Musharraf could well lead to the rise of a violent political Islam."

However, Mohsin added that many thought that Gandhi and Martin Luther King were naïve "but it was they, not the realists, who succeeded in changing the course of history."

What Mohsin apparently means is changing the course of history for the better. By its emphasis on strengthening Pakistan militarily, the Bush administration, through its defense contractors, will be siphoning off funds that could be spent ameliorating the lot of Pakistan's poor, The New Yorker article suggests. This may serve only to increase public disaffection with Musharraf's rule and hasten the downfall of the ally President Bush seeks to perpetuate in power, an ally who shares his belief in military force and who has no scruples when it comes to torture.

Sherwood Ross is a US writer who has worked for major dailies and wire services. Reach him at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com.

Posted by marga at 10:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Julio 2, 2007

Pak - Rally slates govt over forced disappearances

HYDERABAD: The Sindh Nationalist Forum (SNF) brought out a protest rally here on Sunday against forced disappearances of comrades belonging to various nationalist parties.

The rally demanded immediate release of leaders and workers of nationalist parties, including Asif Baladi and Safdar Sarki.

The rally started from Pakistan Chowk and ended at the Hyderabad Press Club.

Activists of different nationalist parties chanted slogans against the government against the forced disappearances of Sindhi and Baloch nationalists. They demanded immediate release of these activists.

Hussein Bux Thebo, Punhal Saryo, Taj Joyo, Ayub Shar, Khalil Kazi, Serai Qurban Khuhawar, Ghaffar Malik and others addressed the protestors and denounced the government over the issue. They termed the forced disappearances state terrorism and declared it the worst example of dictatorship in the country.


Posted by marga at 7:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Junio 20, 2007

Pak - Missing journalist reportedly being held by army

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the release of Abdul
Latif Gola, the Urdu-language daily "Jang"'s correspondent in Jafarabad (in
the southwestern province of Balochistan), who was arrested on 17 June 2007
by police saying they were acting on the orders of an army officer
identified as Major Ali.

"Gola's arrest is totally arbitrary and unjustified," the press freedom
organisation said. "No one should ever be arrested without grounds and
without a charge. We call on the Pakistani authorities to do everything
possible to ensure that Major Ali releases Gola quickly."

Police officers and soldiers went to Gola's home at around 1:00 a.m. (local
time) on 17 June. Malik Allah Bakhsh, a police officer, ordered Gola to go
with them because "Major Ali" wanted to question him.

"We are very worried about Gola," his wife told Reporters Without Borders.
"He has done nothing and we do not know why they took him away."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a journalist based in the Balochi
capital of Quetta told Reporters Without Borders that Gola's arrest was
probably linked to his coverage of recent clashes between the security
forces and Balochi nationalists. Gola is himself a member of the Balochi
ethnic group.

Posted by marga at 7:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Junio 10, 2007

Pak - Disappeared mullah’s son accuses agencies of torture

PESHWAR: Abdullah, the 10-year-old son of Mufti Munir Shakir – a religious scholar missing for the past year after being arrested by the Karachi Airport Security – said on Tuesday that intelligence agencies tortured and forced him to state that his father had links with Al Qaeda.

“Intelligence agencies’ personnel tortured me when I said that my father did not even know the word ‘Al Qaeda’,” Abdullah said, adding that the personnel kept him for 15 days in a separate cell after they arrested him along with his father at the Karachi Airport.

Abdullah said he repeatedly turned down an offer for his release without the release of his father. He said he later agreed to be freed following assurances by agencies men that his father would be released within 15 days. He said security personnel later brought him to Governor’s House in Peshawar and released him there. “One year has passed, but the intelligence agencies have yet to release my father,” stated Abdullah, flanked by hundreds of Mufti Shakir’s followers. The scholar’s followers were protesting in front of the Peshawar High Court building to demand that PHC Chief Justice Tariq Parvez Khan take suo motu notice for the safe recovery of Mufti Shakir from “illegal” detention.

Led by Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf leader Iqbal Afridi, the protesters held portraits of Mufti Shakir and shouted slogans against President Pervez Musharraf and intelligence agencies. They also carried placards stating, “Today the government has detained religious scholars and has given singers and dancers freedom.”

Abdullah told Daily Times that intelligence agencies arrested him and his father on May 16, 2006. Iqbal Afridi said that the religious scholar’s relatives had moved the Sindh High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan seeking his release. He said the intelligence agencies freed many people arrested for alleged links with terrorist organisations, but they had yet to free the religious leader. “Mufti is a preacher of Islam and belongs to the Tableeghi Jamaat,” he added. staff report


Posted by marga at 3:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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 6:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mayo 26, 2007

Pakistan locates 98 illegal detainees

Islamabad, May 25: Pakistani authorities Friday informed the Supreme Court in Islamabad that 98 victims of illegal detention, or "forced disappearances", have now been located, while 156 more were still unaccounted for.

An interior ministry officer presented the names of five more people, who had been found, to a two-member court panel during the hearing of four petitions demanding production of missing people by intelligence agencies.

Efforts to locate the other 156 would continue, Colonel Javed Iqbal told the court.

While the current hearings pertain to 254 people, activists said the actual number of missing people is far higher. Amna Masood Janjua, the wife of a missing man and a leading campaigner, told the BBC's Urdu Service that over 2,500 people are unaccounted for.

The disappearances became a major issue last year during protests in Islamabad by families of people who were believed to have been detained for alleged links with the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

The country's suspended chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, had then taken up the issue and ordered agencies to find them.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and other civil rights organisations also filed petitions seeking information on those missing.

Since then, authorities informed the court of the whereabouts of about 60 people while several others have been released by intelligence agencies.

Eight people, including three Afghan immigrants, who were picked up from different parts of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) were released last week, the Dawn newspaper reported.

While they did not reveal many details of their detention, they told their families that their captors kept asking them about links with Al Qaeda, according to the paper.


Posted by marga at 1:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mayo 10, 2007

PAKISTAN: Hundreds missing in conflict-torn Balochistan

QUETTA, 10 May 2007 (IRIN) - Dr Hanif Sharif, 29, was regarded until 2005 as one of the most gifted young writers in the Balochi language.

Known for his quick wit, charm and ability to coin unusual turns of phrase, he formed the nucleus around which a group of talented Baloch intellectuals gathered in the small town of Turbat in Pakistan’s impoverished, but resource-rich south-western province of Balochistan.

In November 2005, while sitting with friends in a restaurant, Sharif was dragged away by six armed men. Despite widespread publicity of the case and a petition in the Balochistan High Court, he remained missing for nine months.

He was eventually released, apparently from the custody of security forces, in July 2006. He had been extensively interrogated about his role in Baloch nationalist activities, and so severely tortured that he is today reportedly suffering acute psychological problems that have left him a shadow of his former self.

Other Baloch activists taken away by intelligence agencies have provided similar accounts of their ordeals. Dr Imdad Baloch, a leader of the radical Baloch Students Organization (BSO), 'disappeared' for just under four months in 2005.

''My brother, Samad Bugti, has been gone now for two years. Our mother is in anguish. She is in poor health and just wants to see her eldest son once before she dies.''
But they are among the fortunate few who have returned after spending time in safe houses or secret jails allegedly run by security forces or intelligence agencies in Pakistan. Some of these entities, such as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or the Military Intelligence agencies, appear to operate beyond government control, activists say.

The Pakistan government denies this. Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao has said the "government is not involved" in disappearances. A few weeks ago, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said the missing persons may have "gone away on their own”.

Hundreds missing

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), hundreds of people in Balochistan have disappeared.

"The number of disappeared people is very high. We have hundreds of names, and are in the process of verifying them," Zahoor Ahmed Shawani, an advocate and the vice chairperson for HRCP in Balochistan, told IRIN. The number of missing exceeds 600, he said, while some political organisations in Balochistan say that up to 1,000 people could be missing.

Among them is Ali Asghar Bangulzai, who disappeared four and a half years ago. His eight children, the youngest of whom cannot remember their father, have regularly set up protest camps outside the Quetta Press Club, but so far their pleas have been unheard.

"We believe he is alive, but no one has seen him now for many years," Nasrullah Bangulzai, Bangulzai's nephew, said.

The issue of disappearances in Pakistan was previously unknown in the country but has repeatedly made news over the past year.

International rights group Amnesty International has taken up the matter, and in October 2006 organised a high-profile seminar with HRCP in the capital, Islamabad, in an effort to draw attention to the problem.

Since then, HRCP has moved the matter to court – presenting the Supreme Court with a list of 190 names of missing people. At least 114 of them are from Balochistan.

"We need to verify each name to make sure the facts are accurate. This is a new task for us," I.A. Rehman, the director of HRCP, said.

Impact of 9/11

The problem of missing persons first arose in Pakistan in 2002, after the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001 (9/11) brought changes in global anti-terror policies.

According to rights activists, persons believed to be involved in extremist activities were ‘picked up’, and either kept in local safe houses or handed over to US authorities. A small number ended up in Guantanamo Bay, a US-run military prison camp in Cuba. Many others simply disappeared.

"My husband, Masood Janjua, is an educationist and businessman. He has been missing since July 2005. My three children and I wait each day, not knowing if he will ever return," said Amina Masood Janjua, an Islamabad-based housewife who has emerged as a leading campaigner for the families of disappeared people.

The problem, however, soon expanded beyond the ranks of suspected militants. Activists says security agencies used the post-9/11 anti-terror climate to tackle growing dissent - particularly in the minority provinces of Sindh and Balochistan where strong nationalist movements exist as a response to perceived injustices by successive governments in Islamabad.

As such, the largest number of disappeared people is in Balochistan. Many of them were taken away in 2005 and 2006 at the height of fighting between paramilitary forces and rebels allied to Baloch tribal leaders who seek greater autonomy from the government. Hundreds remain missing.

"My brother, Samad Bugti, has been gone now for two years. Our mother is in anguish. She is in poor health and just wants to see her eldest son once before she dies," said Talib Bugti in Quetta. His elder brother was taken away in 2005 from their village near the conflict-torn area of Dera Bugti.

Across Balochistan, families wait for sons, husbands, fathers and brothers to return. Some, such as the family of Munir Mengal, a Baloch Voice television executive who was taken from Karachi airport in April 2006, have threatened self-immolation.

But despite the uproar, hundreds of people in the country remain missing, leaving families behind who do not know if their relatives will ever return.


Posted by marga at 5:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Abril 23, 2007

Pak: Court summons top officials over disappearances: DAG accuses ministry of non-compliance

SLAMABAD, April 20: In a step-by-step approach, the Supreme Court on Friday summoned the secretaries of the defence and interior ministries and the head of the government’s Crisis Management Cell to appear before it next week for a hearing in the case of missing persons. The heads of the intelligence agencies would be called later, the court said.

Heading a three-member bench, Justice Javed Iqbal made known his intention to call chiefs of intelligence services by observing that the situation had become very sensitive, but asked to let the court examine the issue step by step. He then summoned the top government officials and adjourned the matter till April 27.

The bench has taken up petitions of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a former PPP senator, Farhatullah Babar, along with complaints of Amina Masood Janjua, Saqlain Mehdi, Aisha, Abdul Ghaffar, Amtul Hafiz, Fatima, Mohammad Ikram Alvi, Arif Abbasi and Syed Babar.

On Friday, Deputy Attorney-General Raja Irshad told the court that he could not ‘render further assistance’ because the interior ministry had not submitted statements despite assurances.

At the last hearing, the court was assured that its directives to the federal government to furnish a comprehensive statement on each complaint and the HRCP petition would be complied with on Friday.

“I have sentiments too, as I am a father, husband and a brother and, therefore, cannot stand the mental agony of the families of the missing people,” he said.

The application of Ms Janjua pertains to remaining 10 missing people, including her husband, out of a list of 43 people whose unexplained disappearance for two years is believed to have been caused by their suspected links to Al Qaeda or other militant outfits. The HRCP petition deals with 141 people who disappeared mainly from Balochistan.

Mr Babar also urged the Supreme Court to ask the government to produce a copy of the law under which intelligence agencies operated so the issue of disappeared people could be examined in its correct perspective.

It was necessary, he said, because the parliament had denied even a copy of the law saying the issue was sensitive.Asma Jehangir, the HRCP chief, urged the court to summon officials of the intelligence services because, according to her, people were working under the threats of the agencies.

Ms Janjua recalled that in December, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had directed intelligence services – the Inter Services Intelligence, the Military Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau – to send their representatives to the court and answer questions regarding the missing. Five hearings had taken place since then without any progress, she lamented.

“What is the point if this court has no control over these agencies,” she said, adding that the court was adjourning the matter week after week.

Justice Iqbal, however, assured relatives of missing people that the court would take every possible step to minimise their grievance. “Your confidence in the court will never be shattered and betrayed.”

Every institution in Pakistan was answerable to the Supreme Court and nobody was above the law, Justice Iqbal observed, but said certain jihadi outfits were also involved in the disappearance as they lured young men by convincing them to wage a holy war.


Posted by marga at 6:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Diciembre 8, 2006

Pakistan: Growing anger at continuing enforced disappearances

Press release, 12/08/2006

Despite growing anger in Pakistan at the practice of enforced disappearances, the government has still not acknowledged its responsibility for hundreds of people arbitrarily detained in secret locations -- and reports of enforced disappearance continue to emerge.

In a week of demonstrations organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) against enforced disappearances, Amnesty International is releasing an update to its September report that reveals new cases and describes how families searching for their relatives have begun to organise themselves into protest groups.

"The Pakistani government needs to treat this issue with the gravity and urgency it deserves -- we are talking not only about the fate of hundreds of people but also the devastating effect on their families. The situation involves serious breaches of international law," said Angelika Pathak, South Asia researcher at Amnesty International.

President Pervez Musharraf dismissed the September report out of hand, refusing to reply when questioned on it by a BBC journalist. Other government officials were similarly offhand. Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan told Amnesty International delegates that legal procedures were too longwinded to be followed in Pakistan in a political context in which results were needed quickly.

"Politics, economics, security -- all have variously been given as excuses as to why the government needs to break international law. But there is never an excuse for violating human rights. Human rights are the bedrock -- the starting point for approaching politics and security," said Angelika Pathak.

The day Amnesty International released its report -- 29 September -- magazine editor Abdur Rahim Muslim Dost was arrested as he left a mosque in Peshawar. His fate and whereabouts are still unknown. He had just published a book describing how he was arrested by Pakistani military in 2001, transferred into US custody and detained in Guantánamo Bay. The book recounted his torture in Pakistani and US custody.

Family members continued to face harassment even as parliamentarians, lawyers and NGOs gathered for a workshop organised by the HRCP and Amnesty International in Islamabad in early October. At least one relative was stopped by intelligence agents on the morning of the workshop and questioned as to why he was attending it.

Abid Raza Zaidi, a researcher at Karachi University, was detained by Military Intelligence agents after giving a speech at the workshop. He said he was taken to the Red Fort in Lahore and threatened with dire consequences if he spoke publicly about his experiences again. In his speech he had described being detained for over three months without charge and being beaten to make him confess to taking part in a suicide bomb attack at Nishtar Park in April 2006. Abid Raza Zaidi was not charged and was released after 24 hours at the intervention of the HRCP.

Several people subjected to enforced disappearances have reappeared in recent weeks after being arbitrarily detained in secret locations for over two years on average. Each was warned not to speak publicly about their experiences and detention.

"Of course the Pakistani government has a duty to protect people from security threats. At the same time it must follow national and international law in doing so -- anyone suspected of terrorism should be charged, given access to a lawyer and their family, and given a fair trial," said Angelika Pathak.

"To prevent anyone else being subjected to enforced disappearance, the government must set up a central register of detainees and publish regular lists of all recognised places of detention."

To see the report update, Pakistan: Working to stop human rights violations in the 'war on terror', please go to: http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa330512006.

To see the September report, Pakistan: Human Rights Ignored in the 'war on terror', please go to: http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/ENGASA330362006

For more information on enforced disappearances in Pakistan, please go to: http://web.amnesty.org/pages/stoptorture-061208-features-eng.

Posted by marga at 4:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pakistan: 4,000 people have simply disappeared: HRCP

KARACHI: Expressing grave concern over the enforced disappearances of civilians, including members of nationalist parties from across the country, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) highlighted the issue through a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Monday.

The conference was a part of the week of protests being held before the observance of International Human Rights Day on December 10 by various Human Rights activists.

Citing Articles 1 to 4 of the Charter of the United Nations, Iqbal Haider, Secretary-General, HRCP said, “Any act of enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity and is a violation Human Rights and fundamental freedoms as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - the reverse of which is happening in Pakistan.”

He said that the State had failed to take effective legislative, administrative or judicial measures. Although he acknowledged the relief given to some people through Suo Moto notice by the Supreme Court, he said the action was not enough and more efforts needed to be made to prevent these disappearances.

Haider emphasised that the detainees were usually subjected to prolonged isolation and held incommunicado, which in itself is cruel and inhuman treatment, interfering with the psychological and moral well-being of the detained person.

One such detainee, Abid Zaidi, 26, was recently released from illegal captivity by the law enforcement agencies. Narrating his ordeal of prolonged torture and ill-treatment, he said that he was kidnapped on false charges of being involved in the Nishtar Park bomb blast in Karachi.

“I was handcuffed and blindfolded for over three months during which they constantly accused me of the crime I was not involved in and forced me to admit that I was a part of the conspiracy,” he said.

Abid, who is a PhD from the KU, was ‘picked up’ on April 26, 2006, and was released three months later. He continues to receive threatening messages to this day.

Several other family members of the disappeared were also present at the conference who shared their traumatic experiences.

According to the reports received by the HRCP directly and data compiled on the basis of the press reports, about four-hundred citizens have been abducted. Out of them HRCP has verified 241 cases of enforced disappearances.

“The practice often involves an extra-judicial killing followed by the concealment of the body to get rid of any material evidence of the crime and to ensure the impunity of those responsible,” said Haider.

“Disappearances have become so common under Pakistan’s current military government that it does not bother to respect the orders of the judiciary,” added the Asian Human Rights Commission. They called for an immediate constitution of a high-powered commission to be set up by the Parliament to investigate the phenomenon of the growing number of disappeared people in Pakistan, which has approximately reached 4,000 in number since the beginning of the US-led “war on terror” in 2001.

Games of secrecy
By Kamila Hyat

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

The case brought by the families of 41 'disappeared' people before the Supreme Court of Pakistan has directed greater attention than before towards the issue of missing people in the country.

In response to the court order that the missing persons be found by December 1, twenty of the 41 persons have been stealthily set free, with dire warnings not to talk about their ordeal. The others remain missing and the court has given the authorities two more weeks to locate them.

According to the still limited information available on the issue, hundreds of citizens across the country have 'disappeared'. They include Sindhi and Balochi nationalists, those suspected of involvement with militant groups, journalists, Shias and others who seem to fit no definite category but may have, in one way or the other, evoked the ire of influential people.

What is especially alarming is that these agencies appear to operate outside the control of any central authority. This year, officials of the defence and interior ministries told the Sindh High Court in a case involving the disappearance of three political activists that the Military Intelligence and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) did not fall under their operational control.

This obviously raises the question of whom, if anyone, controls these organisations and suggests the situation is one of near total anarchy.

During the last hearing of the case before the Supreme Court, a senior official of the ministry of interior stated they had been unable to find some of those on the list of the missing, despite, what he described as 'efforts at the highest level'. In the light of this failure, he suggested the case be disposed off, and the families who have for years awaited any news of fathers, husbands or sons, simply told to go home. Fortunately, the apex court chose not to heed this advice.

Intriguingly, according to some in Islamabad, at the interior ministry, and some say even the prime minister's secretariat, there is uncertainty as to where these persons are or which agency is involved in holding them. It also seems no one quite knows how this process of 'picking up' people began, or who authorised it.

The prevailing situation, in which shadowy secret agencies apparently function outside formal channels of command, is of course not unprecedented. In recent times, one of the most persistent controversies surrounding security services has been the so called 'Wilson Plot', in which officers of the British security service, known as the MI5, were accused of having conspired against Labour Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson. Wilson, during his second term in office, from 1974-1976, was said to have become so convinced the security services were spying on him, he insisted some visitors to 10 Downing Street conduct conversations only in mime.

The initial allegations persisted for years, and even though, in 1987, the House of Commons was told there was no evidence of any such conspiracy, many remain convinced that there was at least some truth behind Wilson's fears.

Tales of such manoeuvres by security agencies are of course familiar in Pakistan, where many events in recent political history are attributed to 'agencies'. In the past, these agency-orchestrated actions have been blamed for toppling governments and have contributed to an obsession with conspiracy theories, including the many that still surround the 9/11 attacks.

The case of the ongoing 'disappearances', which have gained pace with each passing year, testify as to what dangers intelligence agencies can pose to people and to the unwillingness of the state to protect its citizens from their actions. Reports that in the Punjab, taped conversations obtained from bugged telephones installed at the residences of ministers led to the recent cabinet reshuffle, with outgoing cabinet members punished for lack of 'loyalty' even in private conversations, only goes to show the pattern along which governance today takes place.

But, for these agencies and whosoever exercises influence over them, it would be foolhardy to believe they can get away forever with 'picking up' people, whisking them away to the secret places of detention scattered in cities across the country and subjecting them to torture. It has been proven time and again that the families of the victims, and others moved by their plight, tend not to forget, for after all, they do not have even a grave to grieve over.

The term 'disappearance' was created during the 1960s at the School of Americas, an institute set up by the US military at Fort Guilick in Panama, which ran there till 1984. 45,000 Latin American officers were trained in counter insurgency there. Along with anti-guerrilla tactics, they were taught how to torture, and how to 'manage' prisoners. As soon as the officers left for their home countries, they applied what they had learned with 'disappearances' taking place in a large number of South American nations through the 1960s and 1970s.

Three decades on, the families of the 'disappeared', in Argentina, in Chile, in Venezuela and in other countries are still pursuing the matter and are succeeding in gaining at least some justice. In Chile, former dictator Augusto Pinochet, now aged 91, faces trial for hundreds of 'enforced disappearances', torture and other grotesque violations of rights that took place under his US-backed regime, which ruled Chile for 17 years from 1973. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up in 1990 after Chile returned to democracy, reported that at least 1,000 people had 'disappeared' in the country. All had been killed the bodies dumped into the sea, into rivers, or flung into mass graves by the military and the notorious Directorate of National Intelligence, responsible for the worst abuses. Investigations in Chile continue as does the process of trial and punishment.

In Argentina, the country with one of the highest number of 'disappearances' ever recorded, up to 30,000 people are estimated to have disappeared between 1975 and 1983 under the dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla, who once stated that to guarantee the security of state, "all necessary people will die". His chilling words are not significantly different to those heard in the Pakistan of today.

Over the last two decades, Argentina has led an international effort for a major international campaign against 'enforced disappearances'. There have also been small, personal victories for the families, especially the grandmothers, who have campaigned since 1977 as part of a movement started when four mothers gathered at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires to draw attention to their plight as they attempted to find their missing children. They were soon joined by 'grandmothers', women who had given up hope of finding their own children alive, but who believed their grandchildren, some born to pregnant mothers in detention, others abducted with parents, may have survived.

In 1987, the Argentinean parliament approved a new DNA test to be carried out on children with suspicious adoption records. By 1997, 58 children, all now adults, taken away from leftist parents and usually handed over to supporters of the regime had been identified. Some have opted to rejoin surviving parents or grandparents. New legislation invalidates all adoptions of kidnapped children. The grandmothers continue their efforts to discover other 'disappeared' children and reunite them with relatives so they at least know the truth about their past.

The quest for justice, then, it seems, never stops. Even years or decades later, families of the 'disappeared' have kept up their search. A similar determination is growing today in the country as people unite to combat disappearances. As such, it would be wise for authorities to remember that people cannot simply be whisked away for there will always be those who refuse to forget, and who can through they own courage persuade others to join their struggle to find them.

Posted by marga at 4:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack