PAKISTAN: AHRC gravely concerned about the safety of lawyers and journalists

The head of a ruling coalition party in General Musharraf’s government has threatened lawyers and journalists with dire consequences if they misbehave in future or man handle government lawyers. He, on the other hand justified the attack on the Sindh High Court building by his workers on September 10, 2007 when the full bench of the court was hearing reports with regard to the carnage that took place in Karachi on May 12 as being provoked. In that incident, more than 50 persons were killed by agents of the government security forces when they arrived to show support for the then, suspended Chief Justice, Iftekhar Choudhry.

Mr. Altaf Hussain, head of the Mutehda Qaumi Movement (MQM), a coalition party of the Musharraf government, while addressing a meeting in Karachi through a telephonic address from London where he is in self exile, threatened the lawyers, particularly some office bearers of the Karachi Bar Association, that if the government lawyers were man handled or abused during court proceedings the workers of his party would teach them a lesson. He also referred to the office bearers of the Bar as being vandals and nefarious ‘goonda’ (hoodlums). He also threatened the journalists who had written of the involvement of the MQM workers in the attack on the Sindh High Court building, that their hands would be broken if they did not write the “truth”. Mr Hussain also termed the journalists as prostitutes. Mr. Hussain also used derogatory remarks against the judges who are conducting the inquiry against the violence of May 12.

It is to be mentioned here that on September 10, 2007, the workers of the MQM party attacked the Sindh High Court building and compelled the full bench to postpone the hearing of the inquiry. During the attack a senior lawyer and former vice president of the Karachi Bar Association, Mr. Raja Riaz was shot dead. He was on his way to the court to give evidence in the hearing. On the same day another senior lawyer, Mr. Mohammad Ali Abbassi, the former President of Karachi Bar Association, was attacked by the workers of the same political party and was severely beaten. He was told not to give evidence against the carnage in Karachi at the hearing. The attackers raised slogans in favour of Mr. Hussain throughout the day.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is gravely concerned about the safety of the lawyers and the journalists when a political party leader can openly threaten them with seeming impunity. The dignity of the judges is at stake after the verbal attack by this party who are convinced that their high standing in the government coalition gives them the right to make such derogatory remarks. It is evident that if it comes to a conflict between the lawyers and the MQM that General Musharraf will turn a blind eye to any excesses that the party workers might indulge in. Physical violence even resulting in murder being done in broad daylight has already been seen and despite of calls for investigations by the police and the government no action has yet to be seen to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The AHRC again calls on the international community to intervene in order to prevent a further escalation of this violence by supporters of the Musharraf government. The inquiry into the Karachi carnage on May 12 must be allowed to proceed and the lawyers and witnesses must be offered protection so that they can expose the organisers of that violence.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-223-2007
Countries : Pakistan,