Pakistan rights worker 'intimidated' in alleged house raid

Watchdog alleges that burglars broke into house of editor of critical report on state of human rights in Pakistan.

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    Maryam Hasan is the editor of HRCP's annual report on the state of human rights [B K Bangash/AP]
    Maryam Hasan is the editor of HRCP's annual report on the state of human rights [B K Bangash/AP]

    Activists have raised concern over the security of rights workers in Pakistan following a "burglary-style raid" on the house of the editor of an annual report on the country's state of human rights.

    The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in a statement that two armed men broke into the house of Maryam Hasan in Lahore on Thursday, just days after the release of the critical report she had edited.

    The men "took away her laptop, two hard drives and two mobile phones, as well as some jewellery and cash", HRCP said in a statement on Friday.

    The non-profit rights group added that the burglars told Hasan that they had also come the previous day, but left since she was not home at the time.

    According to HRCP, the alleged perpetrators questioned Hasan about her profession and "intimidated" her in a "roundabout manner".

    "HRCP suspects that the two suave raiders were no ordinary thieves and calls on the government of Punjab to apprehend the culprits and establish their identity, " the statement read. 

    IA Rahman, HRCP spokesman, said it is "clearly evident that the thieves wanted to intimidate Hasan". 

    "Their purpose was not just to commit burglary," Rahman told Al Jazeera in a phone interview from Lahore.

    "Even from the things that they took, it shows that they had some other motive.

    "Ordinary thieves are not interested in laptops and hard drives," he added. "The reports were all in there."

    Rahman said he could not confirm if a police report had been filed on the matter as yet. 

    'Grim' report

    In its report, which was published on Monday, HRCP highlighted the "grim markers" of the state of human rights in the country in 2017. 

    In its yearly review, HRCP questioned Pakistan's commitment to protecting human rights in the country, despite being elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2018-2020 term. 

    The watchdog reported an increase in enforced disappearances, blasphemy-related violence and attacks on religious minorities in the past year.

    It shows the vulnerability of each and every human rights worker and organisation and the rapid pace at which the space for such work is shrinking in the country.

    Reema Omer, lawyer

    Mehdi Hasan, HRCP chairperson, blamed Pakistan's "weak government" for not having an "effective hold on the society".

    He said that "most" human rights violations that occur in Pakistan "are committed by the government institutions".

    "So, you can't solve the problem, because the government itself is responsible for those violations," he told Al Jazeera in a phone interview from Lahore.

    HRCP was established in 1987, with the aim of monitoring human rights violations and addressing them through lobbying, court interventions and public campaigns. 

    'Silencing voices'

    Human rights lawyers and legal experts expressed "shock" and "alarm" at the alleged raid. 

    Haider Imtiaz, a lawyer based in the capital, Islamabad, said the incident signalled a "change of status" in the country.

    "It's deeply shocking because this now represents a bleak time," he told Al Jazeera in a phone interview, describing it as "an attempt to silence" those who "are critical of the state".

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    Reema Omer, international legal adviser at Pakistan International Commission of Jurists, said that in recent months there seemed to be an increased clampdown on activists in the country. 

    "On a number of occasions, state agents have subjected human rights defenders exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to excessive force and even prosecution under Pakistan's anti-terrorism laws," she told Al Jazeera.

    "Others have been threatened, assaulted, forcibly disappeared, or even killed."

    "If HRCP and its staff are no longer secure, it shows the vulnerability of each and every human rights worker and organisation and the rapid pace at which the space for such work is shrinking in the country," Omer added.

    In its statement, HRCP said that it "will hold the provincial authorities responsible for any attempt by state or non-state actors to harass any persons associated" with its organisation. 

    "We have called upon our government to investigate this and find out who the perpetrators are," Rahman told Al Jazeera. 

    Both Imtiaz and Omer urged a "fair, credible and independent" investigation to show the real motives and perpetrators behind the alleged attack. 

    "The problem is we don't have proper investigations taking place, especially where organisations or individuals are being intimidated or harassed," said Imtiaz.

    "They (organisations) are pointing towards unknown sources, which obviously point to certain institutions in the country and therefore, there is always a lot of speculation about it."

    Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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