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UN rights chief 'alarmed' at Pakistan emergency rule

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official website] Monday criticized the weekend imposition of a state of emergency [JURIST report] in Pakistan, saying that she was "alarmed by the suspension of fundamental rights" [press release] in the country. The former Canadian Supreme Court justice also questioned the propriety of imposing emergency rule in the face of alleged judicial interference with Pakistan's government: "A state of emergency should only be used to deal with a dire security threat to the nation, not to undermine the integrity and independence of the judiciary." Arbour expressed concern at reports that Pakistani security services have detained hundreds of lawyers, rights activists and opposition leaders [JURIST report], and urged the Pakistani government to clarify the status of the detained.

On Saturday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf issued a proclamation of emergency rule [PDF text, JURIST report] ahead of a much anticipated Supreme Court ruling on whether Musharraf had been eligible to run for re-election [JURIST reports] for president while remaining chief of the army. Media reports suggested that the court had already prepared a ruling against Musharraf, but Musharraf's Provisional Constitution Order [text] barred the high court and any court from making "any order against the President or the Prime Minister or any person exercising powers or jurisdiction under this authority." AFP has more.

5:16 PM ET - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a separate statement [text] Monday expressing his "strong dismay" at Pakistan's detention of hundreds of human rights and opposition activists, including UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Asma Jahangir [official profile, PDF], the head of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan who was taken into custody and put under house arrest Sunday. Ban urged the Pakistani government to "immediately release those detained, to lift restrictions on the media and to take early steps for a return to democratic rule."

11/06/07 - In an e-mail from house arrest circulated to various Pakistan blogs Monday, UN Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir said:

The situation in the country is uncertain. There is a strong crackdown on the press and lawyers. Majority of the judges of the Supreme Court and four High Courts have not taken oath. The Chief Justice is under house arrest (unofficially). The President of the Supreme Court Bar (Aitzaz Ahsan) and 2 former presidents, Mr. Muneer Malik and Tariq Mahmood have been imprisoned for one month under the Preventive Detention laws. The resident of the Lahore High Court Mr. Ahsan Bhoon and former bar leader Mr. Ali Ahmed Kurd have also been arrested. The police is looking or 6 other lawyers, including President of Peshawar and Karachi bar. The President of Lahore bar is also in hiding. There are other scores political leaders who have also been arrested. Yesterday I was house arrested for 90 days. I am sending my detention order (please click here):

Ironically the President (who has lost his marbles) said that he had to clamp down on the press and the judiciary to curb terrorism. Those he has arrested are progressive, secular minded people while the terrorists are offered negotiations and ceasefires. Lawyers and civil society will challenge the government and the scene is likely to get uglier.We want friends of Pakistan to urge the US administration to stop all support of the instable dictator, as his lust for power is bringing the country close to a worse form of civil strife. It is not time for the international community to insist on preventive measures, otherwise cleaning up the mess may take decades. There are already several hundred IDPs and the space for civil society has hopelessly shrunk.

We believe that Musharaf has to be taken out of the equation and a government of national reconciliation put in place. It must be backed by the military. Short of this there are no realistic solutions, although there are no guarantees that this may work.

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