Demonstration marks Musharraf London visit

A group of vocal demonstrators responded to Pakistan’s President Musharraf to London on Saturday. Around 40 people, some wearing face masks of the President, gathered outside 10 Downing Street, to voice their criticism of President Musharraf’s human rights record.

The demonstration, organised by Amnesty International, came ahead of a meeting between President Musharraf and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, part of the Pakistani president’s tour of Europe. Amnesty International demonstrators were joined by prominent British and Pakistani lawyers from The Law Society, the Society of Asian Lawyers and Solicitors International Human Rights Group.

The demonstrators held signs with slogans including “Gordon, let’s not talk about human rights”, “A little bit of human rights abuse never hurt me” and “Gordon, I don’t let political problems bother me… I imprison them”.

During the recent State of Emergency, thousands of  lawyers and political activists were arrested across the country. On 27 November 2007, the government admitted that it released some 5,748 individuals arrested during the emergency, many of whom were lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists and political activists.

Amnesty International’s own findings reveal that the actual figure was much higher as a “revolving door” of arrests and releases continued throughout the emergency and many arrests and detentions were never recorded.

President Musharraf also suspended the constitution during the State of Emergency, assuming illegal powers. He sacked 12 of the 17 Supreme Court judges replacing them with his own hand-picked candidates.

Pakistan is due to hold elections on 18 February. There are serious doubts whether the elections will be free, fair and transparent in the absence of an independent judiciary and a free media.