ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, (AP) – An international rights group pressed Pakistan’s new government on Wednesday to quickly investigate the disappearance of hundreds of people allegedly rounded up by security agencies as part of the anti-terror campaign.
President Pervez Musharraf purged the Supreme Court last year after it began questioning Pakistani security services about the cases. Musharraf said judges were obstructing counterterrorism efforts.
But the former army chief has lost influence since opponents won February parliamentary elections and formed a government that insists it is committed to improving the country’s human rights record.
In a new report released Wednesday, Amnesty International urged the government to immediately reveal the whereabouts of the people who have been reported missing and bring some relief to their families.
It also pressed authorities to restore the purged judges, investigate all the cases and hold to account those responsible, including in Pakistan’s feared intelligence services.
Foreign governments, especially the U.S., should ensure they are not “complicit” in disappearances, Amnesty said.
“Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has emphasized the coalition government’s commitment to upholding human rights. We urge him to act immediately to resolve all cases of enforced disappearance,” said Sam Zarifi, the London-based group’s Asia-Pacific region director.
Government spokeswoman Sherry Rehman had no immediate comment and Law Minister Farooq Naek, who has reportedly pledged to trace the missing persons and publish the government’s findings, was not available.
Pakistani rights organizations say some 500 people were held secretly by Pakistani security services. They say many are political activists opposed to the government.
Officials including Musharraf last year acknowledged some of the detentions.
However, they have defended the practice as essential to counter terrorist groups including al-Qaida. They suggested that many others reported missing by their families had joined up with militant organizations.
Amnesty highlighted the case of Masood Janjua, a 45-year-old businessman who vanished after taking a bus to Peshawar in 2005. The report included a scanned page from a diary written by another detainee noting that he had seen Janjua in another cell.
The report said that, in court, officials had repeatedly denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.
Rights groups accused authorities of obstructing efforts to find out more about those in custody, even when Supreme Court judges grilled senior officials about the cases. Still, several detainees were released under pressure from the courts.
Amnesty said it was impossible to provide an accurate number of those secretly detained.
Even if some were guilty, they had a “fundamental right to be charged and tried properly in a court of law,” Zarifi said. By holding on to them, authorities have failed in their duty “to charge and try those suspected of involvement in attacks on civilians.”