ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister last year triggered political turmoil and instability in the country.
“Political turmoil and instability engulfed Pakistan after Nawaz Sharif stepped down as prime minister in July after a five-member Supreme Court bench disqualified him based on investigations into corruption allegations,” reads the HRW annual report for 2018 issued on Friday.
It is for the first time that any international organisation has commented on the events that followed the ouster of Sharif in July after over year-long proceedings by the apex court.
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The report apparently endorses the stance of ousted prime minister that his disqualification only added to the political uncertainty. Since his disqualification, the PML-N leader has adopted a hardline stance towards the judiciary and the security establishment.
Overall the HRW report 2018 paints a bleak picture of human rights situation in Pakistan during 2017.
It says although Pakistan witnessed fewer attacks by militants than in previous years, scores of people were killed in attacks primarily targeting law enforcement officials and religious minorities.
“Security forces remained unaccountable for human rights violations and exercised disproportionate political influence over civilian authorities, especially in matters of national security and counterterrorism,” it said.
In March 2017, parliament passed a constitutional amendment reinstating military courts to try terrorism suspects for another two years. Security forces were implicated in enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings throughout the country, the report claims. At least 44 people on death row were executed in 2017, of whom 37 were executed after convictions by military courts.
Highlighting the Afghan refugees’ repatriation issue, it said Afghan refugees in Pakistan continued to face pressure from government authorities to return, although the number of repatriations decreased significantly from 2016.
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Freedom of religion and belief
According to the HRW report, in 2017 a surge was witnessed in the number of blasphemy-related violence while the government continued to encourage discriminatory prosecutions and other forms of discrimination against vulnerable groups.
At least 19 people remained on death row in 2017 after being convicted under blasphemy law, and hundreds awaited trial. Out of this majority of the people facing blasphemy are members of religious minorities—including Aasia Bibi, the first woman to face a potential death sentence for blasphemy.
The report also mentions brutal killing of Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old student at a university in Mardan, over accusations that he made blasphemous remarks against Islamic injunctions.
Women’s, children’s and transgender rights
The HRW report also highlights violent attacks on women, religious minorities, and transgender community, saying that they continued facing discrimination and government persecution, with authorities failing to provide adequate protection to them or hold perpetrators accountable.
A surge was noticed in violence against women and girls and rape, honour killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage remained a serious problem. Pakistani activists estimate that about 1,000 honour killings occur every year.
However the HRW report acknowledged the inclusion of the transgender population in the 2017 census and the first-ever proposed transgender law.
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Freedom of expression, attacks on civil society
Journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship after numerous attacks by security forces and militant groups in retaliation for critical articles. Media outlets remained under pressure to avoid reporting on or criticising human rights violations during counterterrorism operations.
“Human Rights Watch received several credible reports of intimidation, harassment, and surveillance of various NGOs by government authorities,” the report read.
Sharing his comments on this report, the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) Chairman Justice (retd) Ali Nawaz Chowhan told the Express Tribune that Pakistan has become a ‘mini-killing field’.
He said one of the biggest challenges that Pakistan faces is enforced disappearances aimed at shutting down dissent or gaining personal leverage, with multiple accusations leveled against state agencies.
“Hate speech and extremism are festering, leading to forced conversions of minority communities in Tharparkar, Kalash, among others, and an increase in sectarian killings of Hazara Shias in Balochistan, and other religious minorities all over the country,” he said.