Amnesty International Calls for Release of Rights Activists in Pakistan

An international rights group has asked Pakistani authorities to investigate the death of a human rights activist while in police custody and release other activists arrested for protesting his alleged killing.

“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,” an Amnesty International press release said Wednesday.  

Luni, a leader of the rights group Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), died Saturday under mysterious circumstances as police tried to break up a protest. While the government has promised a swift inquiry, PTM activists and opposition leaders are demanding an independent probe. 

Police arrested 25 PTM activists Tuesday while they were protesting in front of the capital city’s National Press Club. Seventeen were sent to jail for 15 days under a six-decades-old law called the Maintenance of Public Order. 

Concern for female activist

Confusion surrounded the whereabouts of female activist Gulalai Ismael as authorities gave conflicting accounts. 

“#WhereIsGulalai” became the top trend on Twitter in Pakistan by Wednesday evening, with human rights activists questioning why the authorities were keeping Ismael’s location a secret. 

“What is her crime that her own family and lawyers are also not allowed to know about her whereabouts?” tweeted activist Meena Gabeena, who uses the handle @gabeeno.

Ismael was released late Wednesday night. Talking to VOA, she said her family was told by the police that she was handed over to “another institution,” a pseudonym for Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI.

Finally returned to family

However, Ismael said she was kept in a car all day, which intermittently drove around or parked in secluded spots. Around 11 p.m., she said she was taken to jail in neighboring Rawalpindi. She said she was not shown a warrant or a police report against her. She was also not allowed to contact her family or an attorney. 

At the last minute, Ismael said she was brought back to Islamabad and handed over to her family. 

“They told me they were releasing me on the intervention of Prime Minister Imran Khan,” she said.  

PTM is considered anti-military for its belief that Pakistan’s military has used the fight against terrorism to carry out human rights abuses against Pashtuns in restive tribal areas and other parts of the country.

The military has been carrying out operations in those areas, often under international pressure, to clear them of militant groups. 

Group has many demands

PTM gained nationwide attention after the extrajudicial killing of a young Pashtun male model in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. The suspect in the killing, police officer Rao Anwar, is out on bail. The case is still pending. 

The group’s major demands include an end to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, particularly of Pashtuns. 

“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 an end to them,” Amnesty International’s Wednesday press release said, asking for the release of all arrested activists. 

Government officials and ministers contacted for this story did not respond to requests for comments. However, a local journalist Mubashir Zaidi, tweeted that the prime minister had ordered the Interior Ministry to ensure release of the activists as soon as possible. 

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