PAKISTAN: the AHRC calls for an immediate inquiry into the ruling party attacks on judiciary and lawyers

The government of General Musharraf attacked the Sindh High Court building today (September 10, 2007), beating several lawyers and using abusive language against the judges on the bench which was conducting an inquiry into the carnage of May 12, 2007 in Karachi, where more than 50 persons were killed. The same day the attackers also shot dead a senior lawyer, Mr. Raja Riaz, outside the High Court building as he was proceeding towards the court. These attacks were lead by the Mutehda Qaumi Movement (MQM) which is the leading party of the ruling coalition.

During the last hearing which took place on September 6, at the Sindh High Court full bench, Mr Riaz was threatened by the workers of MQM that he would be killed if he raised the slogan ‘go Musharraf go’ in the court. The vice president of Supreme Court Bar Association, Mr. Khawja Naveed, who has taking sides with government after the restoration of the Chief Justice Mr. Iftekhar Choudhry, also had angry words with Mr. Riaz in the high court bar room in the presence of many lawyers. Mr. Riaz was threatened to ‘behave’ otherwise he would face dire consequences. Under these circumstances there is reason to believe that Mr. Riaz’ assassination was planned.

Mr. Riaz was killed a hundred or so meters away from the Sindh High Court and very close to Governor House, where there are generally large numbers of police guarding the place. Mr. Riaz was in a taxi and was stopped by staunch workers raising slogans in favour of Musharraf and their party leader Mr. Altaf Hussain. A shot was fired which struck him in the chest. The workers then continued to chant pro-Musharraf slogans and watched him die. There was no intervention by the security officials.

Earlier on September 6, when a full bench was hearing the statements of different high ranking officials of the provincial administration, Mr. Naeem Querashi, Secretary of the Karachi Bar Association suffered a kidnap attempt. The lawyers accompanying him managed to prevent the attempt and helped Mr. Querashi to escape. Shortly before the kidnap attempt Mr. Rizwan Siddiqui, the deputy Attorney General threatened the secretary to retract a police report he had made against the MQM, otherwise he would be made to disappear. Mr. Naeem Querashi then lodged a police report against the attempted abduction and the threat by the deputy Attorney General but the police have not taken any action. He also submitted his statement before the full bench and it was scheduled to be heard today.

On the other hand the government has come out with nine members out of the 22 members of Executive Committee of Supreme Court Bar Association, declaring that it has suspended the membership of its President Mr. Munir Malik.

The Asian Human Rights Commission views the situation of the killing of a senior lawyer, the attack on the Sindh High Court building and the attempt to abduct an office bearer of the Karachi Bar Association with grave concern and believes that these incidents are attempts to suppress and undermine the process of justice and the independence of the courts. The AHRC also views these events as an attempt to punish the lawyers for their heroic movement for the rule of law and supremacy of the judiciary.

The AHRC believes that these violations have the full backing of the military government without which thousands of workers of a political party, which is also a ruling party, could not go openly around the city in jubilation, with loaded firearms, raising slogans in favour of General Musharraf.

The AHRC calls on the international community to intervene seriously in order to prevent an escalation of this violence by the Musharraf government which was threatened by the massive upsurge that is building up against the military regime. The inquiry into the Karachi carnage on May 12 would naturally expose the organisers of that violence. There is thus, an attempt to mobilise mobs in order to disrupt justice and ensure impunity. There is the possibility that such violence may be widespread. We hope that the United Nations and other international agencies will respond to this situation. The killing of Mr. Raja Riaz needs to be investigated and the perpetrators must be brought to justice as soon as possible. All other active members of the Bar Associations which have played such a vital role in the historic movement to defend the independence of the judiciary also deserves protection as they are prominent human rights defenders.

The AHRC honours Mr. Raja Riaz as a martyr for the cause of the independence of the judiciary, rule of law and democracy in his country.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-222-2007
Countries : Pakistan,