Pakistan: Release activists from Pashtun movement

To: Dr Shireen M Mazari, Federal Minister for Human Rights Ministry of Human Rights
Re: Concerns regarding arrests of Pashtun activists and supporters

Your Excellency,

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. Founded in 1993, CIVICUS has 8,000 members in more than 170 countries.

We are writing to you to express our serious concerns over the arbitrary arrests of activists from the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) over the last week. On 27 January 2020, PTM leader and activist Manzoor Pashteen was arbitrarily arrested in Peshawar for criticising government policies based on a speech he gave on 18 January in Bannu. He was charged under Sections 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 124 (sedition), and 123-A (condemning the creation of the country and advocating the abolishment of its sovereignty) of the Pakistan Penal Code. A court denied Pashteen bail and sent him to jail on a 14-day judicial remand in Dera Ismail Khan district. 

On 28 January 2020, while holding a peaceful protest outside Islamabad’s National Press Club against the arbitrary arrest of Pashteen, PTM leader and lawmaker Mohsin Dawar was taken into custody with 28 other individuals. Those arrested include PTM activists, Awami Workers Party members and civil society activists, including three women. Six have been released including Mohsin Dawar but 23 have been charged and sent to Adiala jail on judicial remand. They have been reportedly charged under Sections 188 (disobedience against an order duly promulgated by a public servant), 353 (assault on a public servant), 147 (rioting), 149 (being members of an unlawful assembly), 505-A (defaming the army), 505-B (public mischief), 124-A (sedition), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 186 (obstructing a public servant) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

CIVICUS has also received information that Mohsin Abdali, a young student activist from Lahore, was detained by unidentified men believed to be security officials at 4am on the morning of 30 January and released later in the evening. He had been involved in a demonstration against the arrest of PTM protesters and supporters in Islamabad.

CIVICUS has had longstanding concerns about similar human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people and in particular the PTM, which in recent years has mobilised nationwide against abuses targeting the ethnic Pashtun people. We have previously raised these concerns in a letter to your office in May 2019 which highlighted the judicial harassment of PTM activists, arbitrary arrest of protesters and disruption of protests, the unlawful killing of a PTM leader Arman Loni, and restrictions on media coverage.

These arrests are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Pakistan ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution.

As such, we urge Pakistan authorities to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

  • Release all PTM activists and supporters arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and drop all charges against them; 
  • Investigate the abduction of activist Mohsin Abdali and take steps to bring the perpetrators to justice; 
  • End the arrest, harassment, and intimidation of PTM activists and their supporters and ensure that they
    can freely express their opinions and dissent without fear of reprisals.
    We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps to address the human rights violations highlighted above, and we are available for further discussion.

We express our sincere hope that you will take these steps to address the human rights violations highlighted above, and we are available for further discussion.


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