Human Rights Watch urges Pakistani Authorities to end mass political arrests

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Pakistani police made many arrests and jailed more than 4,000 individuals, including members of the political opposition following demonstrations against the detention of the former prime minister Imran Khan, according to a report released today by Human Rights Watch.

Numerous members of opposition political parties have been arbitrarily imprisoned by police, along with those who have been rightfully held for violent behavior. Many have faced charges under ambiguous and expansive rules that forbid rioting and the making of threats to public order.

HRW said that “All people jailed for engaging in peaceful protest or supporting the political opposition should be freed by Pakistani authorities, who should also respect their right to a fair trial.”

Human Rights Watch assistant Asia director Patricia Gossman said, “The Pakistani authorities should stop their arbitrary arrests of political opposition activists and peaceful protesters.” Anyone who uses violence should be duly charged and have their legal rights upheld.

After the authorities detained former Prime Minister Khan on May 9, 2023, violence erupted throughout Pakistan. Many of Khan’s followers attacked police with rocks and Molotov cocktails, set fire to ambulances, police cars, and schools, and in some cases, attacked them with assault guns.

Police used rubber bullets, tear gas, and baton charges on the demonstrators as a response. In the days that followed, authorities detained hundreds of Tehreek-e-Insaf party members on suspicion of rioting, criminal intimidation, and assaulting government representatives. Khan was granted bail on May 12.

HRW mentioned that security forces must always use the least amount of force required, according to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials established by the United Nations.

“Firearms may only be used to the bare minimum amount necessary to disperse violent gatherings when employing less damaging methods is impractical. Only in cases where using fatal force is necessary to preserve life may law enforcement agents do it on purpose.”

Human Rights Watch also asked the authorities to release Shireen Mazari and Maleeka Bukhari and drop all charges.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Pakistan is a member, is consistent with Pakistani law, which mandates that all prisoners be brought before a court within 24 hours.

According to Gossman, the authorities should exercise restraint and respect for human rights and the rule of law. Fundamental rights to free speech, due process, and peaceful assembly should not be violated as a result of Pakistan’s political unrest.


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