'Pakistan expanded use of draconian sedition laws to stifle dissent'

'Pakistan expanded use of draconian sedition laws to stifle dissent'
Pakistan Flag [Image for representational purpose only]File/ GK

New Delhi, Jan 14: Pakistani law enforcement agencies were responsible for numerous human rights violations, including detention without charge and extrajudicial killings, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its World Report 2022.

In March, Prime Minister Imran Khan met with families of people who had been forcibly disappeared, allegedly by Pakistani security forces, and pledged that their concerns would be addressed. However, his government announced no investigations in any cases.

Pakistan has more than 4,600 prisoners on death row, one of the world's largest populations facing execution. Those on death row are often from the most marginalised sections of society.

In 2021, the Pakistan government intensified its efforts to control the media and curtail dissent. Authorities harassed, and at times detained, journalists and other members of civil society for criticizing government officials and policies. Violent attacks on members of the media also continued, the HRW said in the report.

The authorities have expanded their use of draconian sedition and counterterrorism laws to stifle dissent, and strictly regulated civil society groups critical of government actions or policies.

They have also cracked down on members and supporters of opposition political parties.

Women, religious minorities, and transgender people continue to face violence, discrimination, and persecution, with authorities failing to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators to account. The government continues to do little to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for torture and other serious abuses, HRW said.

Attacks by Islamist militants, notably the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), targeting law enforcement officials and religious minorities killed dozens of people.

A climate of fear impedes media coverage of abuses by both government security forces and militant groups. Journalists who face threats and attacks have increasingly resorted to self-censorship.

Media outlets have come under pressure from authorities not to criticise government institutions or the judiciary. In several cases in 2021, government regulatory agencies blocked cable operators and television channels that had aired critical programs, the report said.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported intimidation, harassment, and surveillance of various by government authorities. The government used a new policy to impede the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups.

Members of the Ahmadiyya religious community continue to be a major target for prosecutions under blasphemy laws as well as specific anti-Ahmadi laws.

Militant groups and the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) accuse Ahmadis of "posing as Muslims". The Pakistan penal code also treats "posing as Muslims" as a criminal offense.

Greater Kashmir