EDITORIAL: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) annual report for 2021 launched the other day, once again, shows unrelenting violations of fundamental rights and democratic freedoms. The highest number of enforced disappearances, it says, was in Balochistan.
Although the prime minister had assured a delegation of the affected families of help to recover their near and dear ones, no progress was made; in fact, two more students from the Balochistan University also disappeared last November.
The government also failed to get the long-awaited bill passed which was to criminalise enforced disappearances. Similarly remains ignored the sane suggestion that cases should be duly registered against those arrested for crimes against the state, and the accused held to account in courts of law.
During the year, women suffered worst forms of violence with 5,279 recorded rape cases, 479 so-called honour killings and the macabre murder of Noor Mukaddam. This, says the report, was rightly described by women’s rights activists as a ‘femicide emergency’ in Pakistan.
It has also recorded extra-judicial killing of a student, Faizan Khattak, by an Eagle Squad in Quetta; shooting to death of 21-year-old Usman Satti in Islamabad by the police for not stopping his car; and abduction of a student of Sindh University at Jamshoro who was later killed in an ‘encounter’. These are only but a few appalling examples of how rather than protecting lives law enforcement agencies feel free to take lives of ordinary citizens.
Noting that the state’s attempts to expand the scope of restriction on freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Constitution have emboldened non-state actors to impose their whims, often violently, on those who do not agree with them, the HRCP report says that the lynching of Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot and the savage murder of the rights activist, Nazim Jokhio, in Sindh allegedly by PPP lawmakers are both the cases in point.
As deeply disturbing as the two cases are, the root cause of such wanton cruelty is very different, nonetheless. The lynching on a blasphemy accusation is the result of state policy of mollycoddling religious extremists in aid of its own wayward objectives. Jokhio, on the other hand, was brutally tortured and murdered because he had dared to challenge politically influential people with a video clip he shot of their foreign guests hunting the endangered houbara bustard — which is banned — in his village.
His alleged killers have since been let off the hook because of their social status, which proves if any proof is still needed, that the law applies only to the weak, not the rich and powerful. The report further points out that the UN human rights experts had called on Pakistan to halt evictions of residents from Gujjar Nullah and Orangi Nullah in Karachi, albeit without success.
That reminds one of the glaring cases of inequity in which several shops in the Empress Market, the only source of livelihood for many families, and a residential building housing several families, were demolished while a well-connected builder was extended the benefit of keeping his illegally constructed upscale housing estate on payment of a certain amount of fine.
The report goes on to highlight the crackdown on political dissent, noting that in at least nine cases journalists were intimidated in order to silence them. Speaking at the launch of the report, HRCP Chairperson Hina Jilani asked the new government not to make the mistake of taking human rights issues lightly.
The government may be new but those presiding over it are not new. They are not expected to do things any differently from their earlier stints in power. It is for the civil society to keep the pressure on for securing equality before law and freedom of expression for all.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022