PAKISTAN: Call for release of minor in Parachinar and protection of Shia community

Fifteen-year-old Javaid Hussain was arrested on 11 May 2016 by the Frontier Corps (FC) of Pakistan Army, for allegedly attacking security forces. According to the media, an event was organized in Kurram Agency, Federally Administration Tribal Areas (FATA) to commemorate the birth of Hazrat Ali, son in law of Prophet Muhammad, and several religious scholars were invited to attend. A few days before the event, the guest scholars were refused entry to the area by FC officials, because there was one Shia scholar present as well. While being the second largest sect in Islam, the Shiites remain under attack by Pakistan’s Sunni majority.

The move enraged the locals, who staged a protest against Kurram Agency’s political administration and blocked the main highway. The FC and local administration claimed that the protestors opened fire on the levies staff, which the protesters deny. The law enforcement officers then arrested 45 persons, including Javaid Hussain, on charges of blocking the road and attacking security forces. In the ensuing chaos, three Shia men were killed, while 11 others were injured. Javaid Hussain is being held at Parachinar jail for almost one month in illegal and arbitrary detention. Hussain is a student of Abbottabad Public School, and was visiting his family in Parachinar on June 11.

Javaid’s father, Syed Zahim Hussain, a teacher in a school located in Bughaki village, Upper Kurram Agency, has been trying desperately to secure the release of his son. He has approached the local administration and tribal elders to intervene, but to no avail. He has also requested humanitarian organizations to help him in the release of his son.

The arrest of Javaid Hussain is illegal, first because he is a minor, and second because residents of Abbottabad district cannot be kept under the FATA jurisdiction. The arrest is a move to instil fear within the Shia community, who despite being a majority in the area, are forced to live in fear due to Shia genocide by banned outfits who had avowed to “make Pakistan a graveyard” for all Shias. In May 2015, an outlawed organization held a public demonstration calling for all Shia Muslims to be put in camps. Since 2001, 2558 Shias have lost their lives in such attacks.

Pakistan’s law clearly states that any act or speech which instigates sectarian conflict, whether inadvertently or willfully, can lead to a possible prison sentence of nearly seven years. Yet, there are hundreds of clerics on the loose, who incite hatred every day. Freedom to practice one’s religion without fear of intimidation is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution. Pakistan is also a signatory of the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of Genocide, which defines genocide as when a party has the intent to destroy a religious, ethnic, or racial group “in whole, or in part” and acts on that intent by killing, injuring, or deliberately causing conditions leading to the physical destruction of that group.

The Convention applies to all people, including private groups that are perpetrating genocidal acts in a country without direct assistance from the state.

Despite these conventions, laws and constitutional guarantees in place, there is grave impunity and state apathy to incidences of discrimination against Shias. The local administration of Parachinar routinely arrests tribal elders to subdue the community. Most recently, local influential leader Agha Irfani, who has been instrumental in providing leadership against Taliban militants in the Khurram Agency, was arrested by FC officials on the pretext of inciting sectarian violence. According to reputed journalist Zia ur Rehaman however, the issue was wrongly given a sectarian angle, when in fact the political administration wants to dismantle the existing Shia leadership and replace it with pro government leadership to assist in the region’s military operation in the region. As Irfani was considered a hurdle in the administration’s design to relocate Taliban militants in the Khuram Agency, he was arrested to preempt any interruptions.

During the last four years, the roads in Kurram Agency, especially Thal-Parachinar Road connecting Kurram with Peshawar, had remained closed and people had been trapped in their areas. The Shia community as a whole and some Sunni tribes like Mangal in Upper Kurram find it extremely difficult and risky to move out of Kurram Agency. Using local political agents, the State has been trying to cleanse the area of Shia dominance, using Sunni militants of banned outfits as proxies. The discrimination against the Shia community, who have been left alone to fend for themselves against the military and the militants, is deplorable and must be condemned by the international community.