Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has called for the immediate release of scores of ethnic Pashtun protesters who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in Pakistan for demonstrating against the police killing of a local human rights activist.
Arman Loni died while in police custody on 2 February. CIVICUS has also urged the authorities to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into Loni’s killing and ensure perpetrators to be brought to justice.
More than 80 protesters from the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) right group, of which Loni was a leader, were initially rounded up by police on February 5, 2019 after they had gathered outside the National Press Club (NPC) in the capital, Islamabad to protest Loni’s death. Loni, a university professor, was arrested on February 2 in the southwestern district of Loralai after participating in a a sit-in demonstration outside Loralai Press Club in Baluchistan, in protest against against a recent terror attack.
At least 17 PTM members were subsequently charged under the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Act of 1960 and moved to Adiala prison. The law gives the government wide-ranging powers to arrest people suspected of acting in a manner “prejudicial to public safety or the maintenance of public order”.
CIVICUS has condemned both Loni’s killing and the protesters’ detention in prison.
The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is a peaceful, grassroots movement demanding equality for Pakistan’s marginalised Pashtun community, which has suffered systemic discrimination and human rights violations including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. They have been holding protests calling for an end to human rights violations against the Pashtun community in the country’s tribal regions, committed by the authorities.
“These arrests are the latest in a series of heavy-handed attempts to intimidate and silence the PTM activists,” said Josef Benedict, civic space researcher for CIVICUS.
“They must be released immediately and unconditionally. The PTM movement must be allowed to exercise its right to freedom of expression and assembly and without any interference or threats or criminalisation,” Benedict said.
CIVICUS also condemns the extrajudicial killing of activist Arman Loni allegedly by police officers while in detention.
“Loni’s killing is an absolute travesty and is an escalation of the repression against the PTM. The authorities must take credible steps to ensure his killers are brought to justice and send a message to the police that they cannot operate above the law, with no consequences for their actions,” said Benedict
The PTM movement has faced trumped-up charges of sedition and terrorism in an attempt to smear and intimidate members and to punish its leaders for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Local media has also refused to cover their protests, allegedly in response to pressure from the Pakistani military.