Benazir writes to HR groups on govt's victimisation of Jang Group

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: Opposition Leader Benazir Bhutto on Monday wrote to international Human Rights groups to take note of "Human Rights violations in Pakistan, especially against the victimisation policy of the government against the press."

In a letter to Pierre Sane, General Secretary to Amnesty International Benazir said: "I appeal to you, as a promoter of the rule of law, Human Rights and a free and unfettered press, to condemn strongly and unequivocally the Nawaz regime's reign of terror against Pakistan's citizens and institutions of democracy."

She said driven by fear and insecurity, the Nawaz government has further taken active steps to directly undermine and silence any and all critical press in the country. "Among other dire acts of intimidation, the government has raided the offices of Pakistan's largest newspaper (The Jang Group); forcibly stopped the distribution of another Urdu daily 'Ausaf', withheld government advertising; frozen bank accounts without due cause; wire-tapped editors and journalists who wrote articles critical of the government's policies; intimidated contractors and vendors of the newsprint; and repeatedly used false allegations of tax fraud as an excuse to throw the owners of the paper into court, despite a lack of evidence," the opposition leader said.

She was of the view that silencing an independent and critical press was often the goal of those in power whose actions and deeds cannot withstand the light of day. As the world's most recent nuclear power, she said it is even more important now that the international community not stand idle by as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government try to return Pakistan to the dark days of dictatorship.

Benazir said she is compelled to raise a series of authoritarian measures taken by the government of Nawaz Sharif that imperil Pakistan's free press, its civil justice system, and the rights of women in the society. "Of most pressing concern is an ordinance being promoted by the Nawaz regime to establish military courts throughout the country, empowered to dispense summary executions," she added.

These courts, she said, currently in operation in one province, have shown a blatant disregard for the impartial administration of justice, and have been declared unconstitutional in the past Supreme Court verdicts. "The right of ordinary citizens to be tried in civil courts -- beyond the influence of government pressure -- is vital to the continuance of an open and democratic society in Pakistan," she said.

Benazir said the Nawaz regime has taken every opportunity to set back the advancement of women in Pakistani society. "Among its many misogynistic policies has been the abolition of family courts and women-run police stations, established to promote the civic rights and equality of women in Pakistan," she added. These actions, she added, raise deep concerns about the further degradation of the rights of women and the welfare of other minorities in our diverse nation.

The opposition leader also sent the copies of this letter to the Human Rights Watch, International League for Human Rights, Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights, International Human Rights Committee, Carter Center (Human Rights Project), Carnegie Endowment for Peace and Democracy, International Bar Association, International Commission of Jurists, International Court of Justice, American Bar Association, International Federation of Journalists, The International Press Institute, National Union of Journalists, The European Institute for the Media, International PEN American Center, Committee to Protect Journalists, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, World Press Freedom Committee and The International Freedom of Expression Exchange.

The News International Pakistan