The Pakistani authorities must immediately and unconditionally release protestors belonging to the peaceful Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) who have been arbitrarily detained, Amnesty International said today.
At least 19 people were arrested from cities across Pakistan on 5 February 2019 as the PTM marked a global day of peaceful protests calling for an end to discrimination against Pashtuns in Pakistan and for an end to enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations.
Amnesty International also calls on the Pakistani authorities to investigate the killing of activist Arman Luni, who appears to have been the subject of an extrajudicial execution, and disclose the whereabouts of the well-known human rights defender Gulalai Ismail, who may have been subjected to an enforced disappearance.
“These protestors must be released immediately and unconditionally. They are prisoners of conscience and have done nothing but exercise their peaceful and lawful right to protest against human rights violations and call for end to them,” said Rabia Mehmood, South Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.
“It is shocking that the Pakistani authorities have resorted to such heavy-handed methods even as senior government officials have clearly acknowledged that the PTM has legitimate grievances that must be addressed. To add insult to injury, the crackdown follows the horrific death of Arman Luni, one of PTM’s activists.”
Death of Arman Luni
The 5 February protests took place as PTM activists were mourning Arman Luni, a teacher and a member of PTM’s core committee from Baluchistan province, who apparently died at the hands of the police on 2 February in Lorelai.
Arman Luni and his sister, Wrranga, also an active PTM member, were subject to threats since last year, forcing the family to relocate from Quetta to Qila Saifullah in the north of Baluchistan province.
The authorities have yet to register a police case into the circumstances of Arman’s death and have not shared details of his post-mortem with his family. There were also attempts to stop PTM activists from attending his funeral.
“There must be an immediate and effective investigation into the death of Arman Luni. There are credible accounts that he may have been beaten to death while in custody. Extrajudicial executions are a stain on Pakistan’s human rights record and were one of the reasons why the PTM took to the streets. The Pakistani authorities must hold the perpetrators accountable and end the culture of impunity around these grim practices,” said Rabia Mehmood.
Detention of Gulalai Ismail
Gulalai Ismail, the founder of the Seeds of Peace network and the 2017 winner of the Anna Politkovskaya award, has gone missing following her arrest on 5 February. Her family, friends and lawyer are unable to establish her whereabouts.
Gulalai Ismail is a prominent PTM supporter and women’s rights activist who was placed on Pakistan’s Exit Control List, which prohibits her from leaving the country, in October 2018.
The authorities claim that she is involved in “anti-state activities”. She was also charged with “rioting” and “incitement” for participating in a peaceful PTM rally in the northwest town of Swabi.
“We are deeply concerned about the fate of Gulalai Ismail. Her whereabouts must be established immediately. The charges against her are an outrage. She has merely exercised her rights to peaceful freedom of assembly and expression. No harm must come of her,” said Rabia Mehmood.
Widening crackdown against PTM
Despite public statements from senior government officials recognizing that the PTM has legitimate concerns that must be addressed, Pakistan’s authorities appear to be intensifying their crackdown against the movement.
Over the past year, dozens of its members and supporters have been arrested, arbitrarily detained, intimidated and threatened with violence. Across the country, their rallies have been banned or disrupted, denying them the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
In June 2018, 37 PTM activists were arrested on charges of sedition. The following month, PTM’s social media lead, Hayat Preghal, was arbitrarily detained and then jailed for more than two months for comments he made online that were deemed critical of the Pakistani military establishment.
On 21 January 2019, Alamzaib Khan, another PTM activist, was detained at gunpoint in Karachi and charged with “rioting” and “inciting hatred” for participating in a demonstration. He remains behind bars.
Last month, Pakistan’s top military spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor, said: “Till such time that the PTM is peaceful and they stick to their genuine demands, which are natural in a post-conflict environment, the state is committed to take care of them.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan, who himself addressed a PTM rally in Islamabad in 2018, vowed last year to take up the issue of security checkpoints, landmines and enforced disappearances with Pakistan’s army chief.
“The Pakistani authorities have made encouraging pledges to address the serious human rights violations highlighted by the PTM. They should honour those commitments and allow the PTM activists to exercise their rights freely and without fear,” said Rabia Mehmood.