Home > South-Asia >> Pakistan

Human rights in Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Amnesty International Report 2008

Head of State: Pervez Musharraf
Head of government: Muhammadmian Soomro (caretaker, replaced Shaukat Aziz in November)
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 164.6 million
Life expectancy: 64.6 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 95/106 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 49.9 per cent

Thousands of lawyers, journalists, human rights activists and political workers were arbitrarily detained. The independence of the judiciary was curbed. Some victims of enforced disappearance reappeared but hundreds remained missing. "Honour" killings and resort to jirgas (informal tribal councils) continued. Violence against women continued with impunity. Some 310 people were sentenced to death and at least 135 executed. Members of pro-Taleban and other Islamist groups took hostages, unlawfully killed civilians, and committed acts of violence against women and girls.


Two phases of confrontation between the government and the judiciary dominated the political process. In March, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was suspended for alleged misconduct but reinstated by the Supreme Court in July. On 3 November, General Pervez Musharraf declared an emergency, suspended the Constitution and replaced it with the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO).

After Supreme Court judges sworn in under the PCO confirmed Pervez Musharraf's eligibility as President, he resigned his army office on 28 November and was sworn in as civilian President.

On 15 November a caretaker government was installed in preparation for elections due in January 2008. The emergency was lifted on 15 December and an amended Constitution restored.

Former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif returned from exile to contest elections. In December, Benazir Bhutto was killed during an attack by a suicide bomber following which there was widespread violence. Elections were postponed to February 2008.

In tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and in Swat (North West Frontier Province), Islamist armed groups and local Taleban forces consolidated their control during the year. Military attacks on suspected armed Islamist armed groups (referred to as "militants" by the government) or Taleban targets involved indiscriminate killing of civilians.

Legal and constitutional developments

The PCO suspended fundamental constitutional rights, including safeguards relating to arrest and detention, as well as rights to security of the person, freedom of expression, assembly and association.

In November, judges of the higher judiciary were required to take a new oath of office under the PCO. Twelve of 17 Supreme Court judges, including the Chief Justice, and around 40 judges of the provincial high courts were either not invited to take the oath or refused to do so. The Supreme Court judges who took the PCO oath then validated the PCO and the emergency.

On 10 November, President Musharraf amended the Army Act to allow the court-martial of civilians suspected of treason, sedition and undefined "statements conducive to public mischief" committed since January 2003.

On 21 November, President Musharraf promulgated a constitutional amendment that bars judicial scrutiny of the emergency, the PCO and any actions taken during the emergency.

Hundreds of cases before the Supreme Court and the four provincial High Courts were delayed as lawyers boycotted courts presided over by judges sworn in under the PCO.

Arbitrary arrests and detention

During the period of emergency rule, the right to freedom of assembly was curbed by rigorous enforcement of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits the gathering of more than four people in public without police authorization. Most of the detainees were held without reference to any law; others for breach of Section 144 and for threatening the maintenance of public order. Some were held in administrative detention under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance (MPO). A number of protesters were charged with terrorism offences or sedition.

Between March and July, hundreds of lawyers and political activists supporting the Chief Justice were detained. Elderly party workers were dragged from their homes in the night and activists were detained in prisons far from their homes. In the run-up to the expected return of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in September, hundreds of party workers were arrested.

Following the declaration of an emergency, several of the dismissed judges, including the Chief Justice, were placed under de facto house arrest and denied access to family and friends, without reference to any law. Thousands of lawyers and other human rights defenders were detained, including some 55 human rights activists who had gathered at the office of the NGO Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in Lahore on 4 November. HRCP chairperson and UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion, Asma Jahangir, was detained in her home under a 90-day MPO detention order that was lifted on 16 November. A 90-day detention order issued against Hina Jilani, UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, was not enforced after she returned to the country.

  • On 5 November, Baloch nationalist leader Hasil Bizenjo; Ayub Qureshi, provincial chief of the Baloch National Party; Yusuf Mastikhan, Vice President of the National Workers Party; trade unionist leaders Liaquat Sahi; and Farid Awan were arrested in Karachi on charges of sedition and rioting, after making speeches against the imposition of the emergency. They were released on bail on 22 November, but charges remained pending.
  • Torture and other ill-treatment

    Many of those arbitrarily arrested were reportedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated, including by sleep deprivation and denial of urgently needed medical treatment. Torture and other ill-treatment were routinely used against criminal suspects.

  • Mohammad Shahid Rind was arrested on 28 July and reportedly tortured by police who allegedly mistook him for the brother of a wanted criminal. Sindh High Court ordered his release and medical treatment, and instituted an inquiry into his arrest and torture. He was still in detention at the end of the year.
  • Enforced disappearance

    The Supreme Court heard petitions of more than 400 people subjected to enforced disappearance in the context of the government's "war on terror" and other national security campaigns. Almost 100 of the disappeared were subsequently located. Some of those who reappeared had been detained on apparently false charges.

    On 5 October, then Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry asserted that there was "irrefutable proof" that the missing people were in the custody of secret agencies and that those responsible would be prosecuted. He ordered all those still unaccounted for to be brought before the Court. Hearings continued until 2 November, when the Court adjourned proceedings until 13 November. However, following the imposition of emergency on 3 November and the dismissal of several Supreme Court judges, no further disappearance hearings were held.

    The fate and whereabouts of hundreds of people remained unclear and they were feared to be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

  • Saud Memon, who allegedly owned the shed where abducted US journalist Daniel Pearl was murdered in 2002, was found near his Karachi home on 28 April 2007. He had lost his memory, was unable to speak and weighed only 36kg. He died on 18 May in hospital. He was believed to have been arrested by US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in South Africa in March 2003. It remained unclear where and in whose custody he was subsequently held.
  • Unlawful transfers of victims of enforced disappearance to countries where they could be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment continued.
  • Osman Alihan, an ethnic Uighur from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China, was held at an unknown place of detention after arrest in Rawalpindi on 4 July. He was wanted by the Chinese authorities for alleged membership of the banned East Turkistan Islamic Movement. He was unlawfully handed over to China at the end of July. His fate remained unknown. Another Uighur, Ismail Semed, was executed in the XUAR on 8 February 2007 for "attempting to split the motherland" and other offences. He had been forcibly returned to China from Pakistan in 2003 (see China entry).
  • Excessive use of force

    During several waves of protests, security forces used unnecessary or excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.

  • On 29 September, over 80 lawyers and political workers protesting in Islamabad against forthcoming presidential elections were injured, some seriously, when police officers, many in plain clothes, beat them with batons. On 1 October, the Supreme Court held the Islamabad Police Chief responsible for ordering disproportionate force and ordered his immediate suspension. On 23 October, the Supreme Court ruled that the deployment of police officers in plain clothes was illegal.
  • After failing to arrest and seek to prosecute clerics and students of the Red Mosque in Islamabad who abducted, beat and threatened people whom they considered in breach of Islamic norms, security forces in July first laid siege to, then stormed the mosque. At least 100 people were estimated to have been killed. Among the dead were unarmed women and children possibly used as human shields by those barricaded in the mosque. The clerics and students were earlier told by President Musharraf that they would be killed if they did not surrender.
  • Police were complicit in violent attacks allegedly carried out by political allies of the government, particularly during a lawyers' campaign against the Chief Justice's suspension in March. On 12 May, at least 40 people holding a welcoming rally for the Chief Justice in Karachi were killed in such attacks. Police reportedly failed to protect demonstrators, including lawyers, and to prevent the violence.
  • In the tribal areas and in Swat, the army said they had killed hundreds of "militants", but local people said that many of the victims were women and children. The military carried out several aerial bombardments of villages, reportedly resulting in the deaths of many unarmed civilians. Few attempts were made to arrest and try alleged "militants".
  • On 7 October, fighter jets bombed supposed "militant hideouts" in North Waziristan, killing some 250 people, reportedly including civilians. Thousands of villagers reportedly fled the area.
  • Freedom of expression curtailed

    Many journalists covering protest rallies were beaten, threatened and detained. After the imposition of emergency rule, independent television and radio news channels were closed. New laws arbitrarily restricting print and electronic media were issued in November. Independent Pakistani television channels were prohibited from broadcasting within Pakistan unless they signed a Code of Conduct restricting criticism of the government.

    Abuses by armed groups

    Hostage-taking and killings

    Members of Islamist armed groups were responsible for hostage-taking, killing of captives and other unlawful killings. After the Red Mosque siege, suicide attacks against government and army installations increased, leading to some 400 deaths. In July alone, 194 people, including many civilians, were killed in 13 suicide attacks.

    Members of Islamist groups carried out execution-style killings of dozens of people deemed to have contravened Islamic law or to have co-operated with the government, in some cases after hearings before Islamic councils (shura).

    In August, a pro-Taleban group in South Waziristan released a video that appeared to show a teenage boy beheading a captured member of a pro-government paramilitary force. The video also raised concerns that the group was using children to carry out grave human rights abuses.

    Violence against girls and women

    Girls and women were increasingly targeted for abuses in the areas along the border with Afghanistan under Taleban control.

  • In Bannu, North West Frontier Province, the bodies of two women were found in September. A note attached to one woman's body said that she had been killed to punish her for immoral activities.
  • Discrimination against religious minorities

    The authorities failed to protect religious minorities.

  • In September, two Ahmadi doctors were killed in Karachi allegedly on account of their minority faith. No one was arrested.
  • Prosecutions under blasphemy laws continued and many people were sentenced to death.
  • Younus Masih, a Christian, was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court in Lahore on 30 May in a trial that was reportedly unfair. He was falsely accused of making derogatory remarks against the prophet of Islam at a religious service in 2005. He was a prisoner of conscience.
  • Violence against women

    Custodial violence, including rape, continued. The state failed to prevent and prosecute violence in the home and community, including mutilation, rape and "honour" killings. The NGO Aurat Foundation said that in the first 10 months of 2007 in Sindh alone, 183 women and 104 men were murdered for supposedly harming family "honour". Despite a ban on jirgas by the Sindh High Court in 2004, official support continued. In November, caretaker Minister for Information Nisar Memon stated that jirgas were a reality and should be "brought into the mainstream".

    The higher judiciary on several occasions ordered the prosecution of people responsible for swara, the handing over of a girl or woman for marriage to opponents to settle a dispute. The practice was made punishable with up to 10 years' imprisonment by a 2005 law, but continued to be widespread.

    Children's rights ignored

    The number of juvenile courts remained inadequate. Children continued to be tried and detained along with adults. Children were detained under the collective responsibility clause of the Frontier Crimes Regulation in the tribal areas for offences committed by others, a clear violation of the prohibition in international law of collective punishment.

    Death penalty

    Some 310 people were reportedly sentenced to death, mostly for murder. At least 135 people were executed, including at least one child offender.

  • Muhammad Mansha was executed in Sahiwal in November. He had been sentenced to death in March 2001 for a murder committed when he was around 15 years old.
  • Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments

    The Hudood ordinances continued to provide for flogging and amputation, but no such punishments were carried out in 2007. In June, the Federal Shariat Court set aside a sentence of amputation of the right hand and left foot imposed in January 2006 on Afghan national Ajab Khan for robbery. The Court ruled that mandatory punishments such as amputation cannot be imposed under Islamic law unless the reliability of witnesses was ascertained.

    Amnesty International visits

    An Amnesty International delegation visited Pakistan in December.

    See also:

    Home | Site Map | Calendar & Events | News Services | Links & Resources | Contact Us