Pakistan 2015/2016

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Executions resumed following the Pakistani Taliban-led attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014. Adding to concerns over fair trials, newly established military courts were authorized to try all those accused of terrorism-related offences, including civilians. A new National Human Rights Commission was established with a mandate to promote and protect human rights, but was restricted from investigating allegations of human rights abuses against the intelligence agencies. Religious minorities continued to face discrimination, persecution and targeted attacks. Human rights activists experienced harassment and abuse. In March, Baloch activists were barred from leaving the country to speak at a conference in the USA about human rights violations in Balochistan and Sindh. A new policy for international NGOs was passed in October, giving the government the power to monitor their funds and operations and to close them down on the basis of activities considered to be against the interests of Pakistan. In November, the government restored a separate Ministry of Human Rights, which it had merged with the Ministry of Law and Justice in 2013.

Background
Following the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on 16 December 2014 in which 149 people were killed, including 132 children, the political and military leadership announced a 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism. Its implementation started with the immediate resumption of executions for prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offences. In January, the President signed the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill of 2015 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 1952, giving military courts jurisdiction for two years to try civilians for terrorism-related offences. Under the NAP the government also pledged to curb hate through speech and literature, protect minorities, and prevent terrorism. By October, up to 9,400 people had been arrested according to government figures on allegations of inflaming sectarian hate; some booksellers and publishers claimed they were unfairly targeted by police who were under pressure to make arrests. Major floods for the fifth year in a row displaced hundreds of thousands and killed more than 200 people. In October, an earthquake in the Hindu Kush range of Afghanistan killed at least 28 people in Pakistan.

Death penalty

The Prime Minister announced the resumption of executions of people convicted of terrorism-related offences following the Peshawar school attack in December 2014. In March the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted for all 28 offences for which the death penalty is provided, including non-lethal crimes. In November, a parliamentary panel approved the punishment of life imprisonment or the death penalty for the rape of girls aged 13 or under.
More than 300 executions were recorded during the year, most for murder and others for rape, attempted assassination, kidnapping, and terrorism-related charges. Faisal Mehmood and Aftab Bahadur were among those executed despite claims and supporting evidence submitted by their lawyers that they were juveniles at the time of the offences for which they were convicted. In October, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Mumtaz Qadri for killing the Punjab governor in 2011.
Military courts sentenced at least 27 people to death and four to life imprisonment. Details of the allegations and trial proceedings remained unknown. Death sentences imposed on at least two people were challenged in the Peshawar High Court (PHC), including by Haider Ali, whose parents claimed he was a juvenile when arrested in 2009, and Qari Zahir Gul, whose parents claimed he did not have a fair trial. The PHC upheld both death sentences in October during in-camera proceedings.

Discrimination – religious minorities
Religious minorities, both Muslim and non-Muslim, continued to face laws and practices that resulted in discrimination and persecution. In February, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shiite mosque in Peshawar that killed at least 20 worshippers and injured 60. In March, a suicide attack on two churches in Lahore claimed by Jamaat ul Ahrar, a splinter group of the TTP, killed at least 22 people. Following the attack, a group of Christians in the same neighbourhood killed two Muslim men. In May, 45 Ismailis on a bus in Karachi were attacked and killed; and various groups, including TTP, Jundullah and the armed group Islamic State (IS), claimed responsibility. At least three Hindu temples in Sindh province were attacked; there were no reports of deaths or injuries.
Blasphemy laws remained in force, mostly in Punjab province; they applied to people of all religions but were disproportionately used against religious minorities. An appeal against the death sentence of Asia Noreen (also known as Asia Bibi) in October 2014 was admitted in the Supreme Court but a hearing date was not confirmed at the end of the year. An appeal against Sawan Masih’s conviction and death sentence for blasphemy allegations that sparked a mob attack against residents of Lahore’s Joseph Colony in 2013 remained pending in the Lahore High Court. In its judgment against Mumtaz Qadri, the Supreme Court noted that criticism of the blasphemy law did not amount to blasphemy.
It remained a criminal offence for members of the Ahmadiyya faith to propagate, profess or practise their religion openly.
Forced conversions and marriages of Hindu girls to Muslim men continued, particularly in Sindh.

Abuses by armed groups

Armed groups continued to carry out targeted attacks against civilians, including health workers and civilians affiliated with the government.
At least eight members of polio vaccination teams – six men and two women – were killed by armed groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan province.
Armed groups continued to target civilians affiliated with the government or government-run projects. In April, 20 construction workers from Sindh and Punjab were killed in Kech district, Balochistan; the Balochistan Liberation Front claimed responsibility. In August, several armed groups, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility following a suicide attack that killed 18 people, including the Punjab Home Minister.

Police and security forces

Enforced disappearances continued with impunity, particularly in Balochistan, KPK and Sindh. Bodies were later found bearing apparent bullet wounds and torture marks. Raja Dahir, affiliated with the banned Sindhi nationalist party Jeay Sindh Mutihida Muhaz, was subjected to enforced disappearance after a raid on his home by security forces in Sindh in June. His body was recovered a month later in Jamshoro district.
The NGO, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, documented a rise in killings of suspects in Karachi during paramilitary security operations, as 255 people were killed in the first half of 2015. The political party Muttahida Qaumi Movement claimed that some of its members were abducted and unlawfully killed.
In November, an amendment to the Pakistan Army Act gave retrospective legal cover to arrests by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. Lawyers for Qari Zahir Gul and Haider Ali, who were tried in the newly established military courts, claimed they were subjected to enforced disappearance and unlawful detention prior to their trials.
Internal armed conflict
The civilian population in FATA continued to be affected by internal armed conflict. The Pakistan Army continued its military operations, started in 2014, against non-state armed groups in North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agency. The Army claimed that over 3,400 militants were killed and at least 21,193 arrested during these operations. Due to the lack of transparency of the operations and independent media coverage, and previous concerns of disproportionate use of force in similar operations, serious concerns remained about the circumstances surrounding the killings, and the treatment in detention and fair trials of those arrested.
More than one million people remained displaced as a result of the current and past armed conflict in the northwest.
US drone strikes reduced in number and were carried out mainly in North Waziristan. Information about the impact on civilians was scarce. Two foreign aid workers – US national Warren Weinstein and Italian national Giovanni Lo Porto – who had been held as hostages by al-Qa’ida were among those killed in a US drone strike in January, highlighting again the wider concerns that drone strikes lead to the unlawful killing of civilians.
The Pakistan Army launched its first drone strike on 7 September, claiming it killed three leaders of armed groups in North Waziristan.
Armed conflict continued in areas of North Waziristan, with allegations by human rights groups that civilians were killed and injured as result of indiscriminate military operations.

Freedom of expression
Some journalists and media channels exercised self-censorship for fear of reprisals from the Pakistan Army and armed groups. Following coverage of Pakistan’s response to the intervention of Saudi Arabia in Yemen in May, and the stampede in September at the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca where more than 2,000 pilgrims died, the state-run Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issued warnings to the media against airing reports deemed critical of Saudi Arabia. In both instances PEMRA invoked Article 19 of the Constitution, which provides for exemptions to the right to freedom of expression in cases of criticism of the military, judiciary and Pakistan's relations with “friendly countries”.
At least two media workers were killed and six injured in connection with their work. Zaman Mehsud was killed on 3 November in Tank. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack saying it was for his writings against them. TTP factions threatened journalists with severe consequences if they did not provide them with coverage. The Prime Minister’s promise of March 2014 to appoint Special Prosecutors to try cases involving attacks on journalists had not been fulfilled by the end of the year.
In April, human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud was killed after hosting a discussion on Balochistan at her cafe in Karachi. Her driver, a key witness, subsequently was shot dead, despite the Sindh Witness Protection Act 2013 that was passed to protect witnesses.
Three Baloch activists, including Abdul Qadeer Baloch, Vice Chairman of the organization Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, were banned from travelling to the USA in March to attend a conference organized by Sindhi and Baloch activists. They were detained at Karachi airport for a few hours, accused of engaging in terrorism and anti-state activities. No charges were brought against them.
In October, a new policy was announced requiring all international NGOs to register and obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior for carrying out activities. The policy also empowered the government to monitor their funds and operations and to close them down on the basis of activities considered to be against the interests of Pakistan.
In September, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication approved the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill which allows the government to censor online content and access internet users’ data. Activists raised concerns about provisions which threatened privacy and freedom of expression and imposed heavy punishments. The Bill was awaiting final approval by the National Assembly at the end of the year.

Violence against women and girls
Women and girls continued to face violence and threats. At least 4,308 cases of violence against women and girls were reported for the first six months of 2015. The figure included 709 cases of murder; 596 of rape and gang rape; 36 of sexual assault; 186 of so-called “honour” crimes; and 1,020 of kidnapping. Despite the enactment of the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act in 2011, at least 40 acid attack cases were recorded between January and June.
In Sahiwal a number of knife attacks were reported against women seen outside their homes without a male companion. Up to six cases were reported in one week in September.
Tabassum Adnan, the founder of Khwendo Jirga, Pakistan’s first all-women jirga (informal judicial court), received the US State Department's 2015 International Women of Courage Award in KPK. Following the publicity received through the award, she faced anonymous threats via phone and text messages that forced her to relocate to another city.
Despite efforts in recent years to enact legislation protecting women from violence, laws remained in force under which female rape victims can be convicted for adultery. Women continued to be denied equality and protection in law, a situation exacerbated by factors including the absence of legislation against incest and a gender-insensitive criminal justice system.