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PAKISTAN: Prominent human rights defenders are targets of assassination

February 9, 2013
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Two prominent lawyers and a well known human rights defender have been assassinated in target killings on February 2, 2013. Mr. Malik Jarrar 47, a Supreme Court lawyer, was shot dead in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Paktoonkha province by unknown persons, riding a motorcycle. He was on his way to pick up his two sons from school. Mr. Jarrar was the former vice chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an NGO, and he was an incumbent council member, the highest body of the HRCP.

Another prominent lawyer, Mr. Mian Muhammad Tariq 55, was also shot dead in similar manner in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province. He was shot dead by unknown assailants when he was parking his car inside his apartment building.

The killing of the former office bearer of HRCP is also related to the sectarian killings in the country as he was from the Shia sect, the second largest sect of Islam which is under attack by the Taliban and other fundamentalist Sunnis who had declared them as Kafir (infidel) and liable to be killed. In the recent days four prominent Shia were assassinated by unknown persons in Peshawar.

The legal fraternity of the whole country is on boycotts of courts for two days in protest of killings of the lawyers and demanding the arrest of killers. The lawyers are terming the killings of their colleagues as the total failure of the government to for maintaining the rule of law in the country.

In the last week four workers of one NGO, HANDS, working to provide health facilities and food rations to poor fisherfolk, were abducted by unknown persons but the government has failed to recover them.

Persons who work in favour of human rights, which is deemed contrary to the interests of radical Islamist groups face considerable threat, as may be noted in the killings in 2011 of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and the Federal Minister of Minority Affairs, Shabaz Bhatti, who were targeted for their efforts to protect minorities, and their opposition to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.

The violence against human rights defenders and civil society organizations is rising by the state and Muslim groups which indicates a failure on the part of the government to provide protection to human rights defenders.

Journalists who work on human rights issues remain the prey of state and both state actors and Muslim extremist groups including the Taliban. So far 87 journalists had been killed in Pakistan since 2000. In the year 2012, eight journalists were killed while performing their official duty. During the first two months of this year alone, three journalist has been killed.

The killings of human rights defenders in Balochistan while they were documenting cases of forced disappearances as part of the Supreme Court’s efforts to compile a list of cases, illustrates the risk to defenders who work on the gravest rights abuses. The people who are disappeared after their arrests in Balochistan, were are human rights defenders as they were activists working for the rights of the people and the Balochistan province.

The irresponsible attitude of the government towards the security and protection of the human rights defenders and also the appeasement policy towards the Muslim fundamentalists groups can be judged by the government’s refusal to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to visit the country. The government, after ratifying the UN ICCPR has accepted a recommendation to do so.

The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the killings of senior lawyers and human rights defenders and urges the government to develop a mechanism for the protection and safety of the human rights defenders. The AHRC also urges that the assassins be arrested and prosecuted under the laws of the land regardless of whether they are from the intelligence agencies, military or religious fundamentalist groups.

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