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PAKISTAN: Government cracks down on civil society

ISLAMABAD, 5 November 2007 (IRIN) - A senior UN expert has condemned the rounding-up of civil society leaders and activists in Pakistan after the declaration of emergency rule in the country.

“It’s not just emergency law. It’s martial law,” Asma Jahangir, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IRIN from her home in Lahore, in the east of the country, on 5 November.

Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and beliefs, was placed under house arrest for 90 days just hours after the announcement.

Up to 1,500 opposition leaders, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists and other members of civilian society were picked up over the weekend after President General Pervez Musharraf ruled on 3 November to impose emergency rule in the country and suspend the constitution, according to rights groups.

At the same time, the Supreme Court is due to hear a petition challenging Musharraf’s eligibility to serve as president again.

Election delay?

Musharraf had repeatedly stated he would step down as the country’s military head before re-taking the presidential oath on 15 November and would hold parliamentary elections by 15 January.

But one day after emergency rule was imposed, comments by Prime Minister Shaukak Aziz suggest a delay to civilian rule is imminent.

“There could be some timing difference on the election schedule but we have not decided yet,” Aziz told reporters, saying Musharraf had taken the “extra-judicial” step of imposing emergency rule to bring harmony among the three pillars of state.

“These measures are to ensure the writ of the government, improve law and order and maintain harmony among the judiciary, executive and the legislature, so that the government can function smoothly,” Aziz said.

Judges arrested, media silenced

After suspending the constitution, Musharraf moved quickly to place seven Supreme Court judges under house arrest, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was ousted by Musharraf in May, but reinstated after mass protests.

New media guidelines were drawn up curtailing press freedom, while broadcasts of private TV and foreign channels remained cut off.

Security measures have been beefed up as the government braced for possible opposition.

Pakistani police dispersed protests by lawyers in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, and Lahore and Rawalpindi on 5 November, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, a stand-off between security forces and followers of Islamic religious leader Maulana Fazlullah, who want to establish Sharia law in the Swat Valley, continued. The conflict contributed to the government’s decision to impose emergency rule.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2007

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