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United Nations human rights experts urge Pakistan to restore the Constitution and the rule of law

8 November 2007

Ms. Gay J. McDougall, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, issued the following statement today:

“Further to the concerns expressed to the Government of Pakistan by several special procedures mandate holders (the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders), we are deeply alarmed at the imposition of the state of emergency in Pakistan and condemn the suspension of fundamental freedoms, including the right not to be deprived of one’s liberty, freedom of movement, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

The imposition of the state of emergency entails an attack on the independence of the judiciary.We are concerned that President Musharraf's declaration of emergency powers is in response to judges allegedly "overstepping their limits of judicial authority" and “interfering in Government policy”, particularly in the context of countering terrorism and addressing extremism.

We condemn the retaliation measures, including the abuse of the notion of terrorism, against those who are expressing their dissent against the imposition of the state of emergency. Considering the frequency of arbitrary detentions occurring during states of emergency, the exercise of power under such conditions must be in strict compliance with the principle of proportionality.

In particular, we are extremely concerned about the detention and house arrest of leading judges, lawyers and human rights defenders. This includes the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, who has been placed under house arrest for a period of 90 days, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and other members of the Supreme Court who were also placed under house arrest when they refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Provisional Constitutional Order. We call for their immediate and unconditional release.

We are concerned that placing a Special Procedures mandate holder under house arrest may adversely impact on his or her ability to carry out the activities necessary to fulfill the mandate. We are alarmed that a detention order remains in place against Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders. We urge the authorities to immediately overturn this order.

We condemn the excessive use of force by the police, the brutal repression and the massive arrests that have occurred during demonstrations organized by lawyers to protest against the suspension of the Constitution.

We also express our serious concern about the pervasive restrictions placed on the media, in particular the suspension of broadcasts of all international and national privately owned channels, as well as the serious assaults inflicted upon journalists by members of the police and security forces. We urge the Government to fully remove all restrictions to the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom of the press.

The suspension of fundamental freedoms, in what appears to be an imposition of a state of emergency in breach of national laws and international standards, undermines the enjoyment of all sets of rights and affects all sectors of the population.

We urge Pakistan to return to democratic rule and to stop the ongoing escalation of human rights abuses.”