Geneva, Nov. 8 — In a statement issued today in Geneva, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer called for a special session of the Human Rights Council to address Pakistan’s imposition of martial law, and demanded the immediate release of Asma Jahangir, the UN expert on religious intolerance and a prominent activist in that country, as well as the release of all other human rights defenders arrested during the Musharraf government’s recent crackdown. “As a heroic voice of individual liberty, freedom of conscience, and the rights of women, Ms. Jahangir is among of the world’s most courageous human rights activists and an inspiration to all of us in the Geneva and international human rights community,” said Neuer. “Pakistan should be putting her on a pedestal, not behind bars.”
In the past week, General Pervez Musharraf imposed martial law and ordered the arrest of hundreds of human rights activists, lawyers, and political dissidents in a crackdown on opponents to his continuing military rule. Ms. Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, is currently under house arrest for unidentified activities said to be “prejudicial to public safety and maintenance of public order.” Ms. Jahangir is being detained under a sweeping 1960 law that allows for “preventive” arrests without warrants and without charges in the name of state security.
“The Pakistani authorities should recognize that the work of Asma Jahangir and other human rights activists only strengthens their country by upholding the rule of law,” stated Neuer. Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for human rights defenders, and a sister of Jahangir, also has an arrest warrant awaiting her return to Pakistan.
“Regrettably, this is not the first time we have had to approach Pakistan over its heavy-handed treatment of both women,” said Neuer. During a peaceful protest in support of women’s rights held in Lahore on May 14, 2005, Ms. Jahangir and Ms. Jilani were among several women who were publicly humiliated, beaten and arrested by Pakistani police. Neuer confronted Pakistan over its actions at the June 2005 annual session of UN human rights experts in Geneva, causing Pakistan to issue its first apology for the “extremely unfortunate” incident.
UN Watch urged England, Germany, France, Canada and other democracies on the Human Rights Council to request a special session on the situation in Pakistan. “When judges and human rights defenders are arrested and independent media is shut down, the body that describes itself as the highest authority on human rights cannot remain silent,” said Neuer.