Protests against disappearances rise and the level of tolerance from the law enforcement agencies declines

Clip_16The people of Pakistan watched the brutal attack by the police on a peaceful demonstration for the recovery of disappeared persons in front of Parliament House in Islamabad on April 28. There were more than 250 persons including a good number of women and children who were from the family members of disappeared persons. The peaceful protest was conducted under the banner of, ‘Defence of Human Rights’ (DHR) and was led by its chairperson, Mrs. Amina Masood Janjua.

The protesters were attempting to approach Parliament House in Islamabad’s Red Zone area. Police resorted to baton-charging and aerial firing and also fired tear gas canisters to disperse the demonstrators, as a result of which several persons fell unconscious. The resultant clash also left six police personnel, including two women and four men wounded.

Amna Masood Janjua, who is a human rights activist and campaigner on the issue of missing persons, was arrested. The police also tried to confiscate the cameras and other equipment, of media teams that were covering the incident.

According to AFP, several journalists were wounded and had their equipment damaged due to the excessive use of force by security personnel.

The police began to target the media personnel when they gathered around Mrs. Janjua in an effort to grab footage of the police manhandling and forcing the human rights campaigner into a vehicle. At least three media persons were wounded in the police action. Moreover, several activists and media personnel were also taken into custody by the police. Many persons including women and children were injured.

After the incident Prime Minister took the notice of the incident and ordered the release of Mrs. Janjua and all others who were arrested. He also ordered the suspension of the police officers responsible for the attack on the demonstrators. After their release the participants of the protest again held a peaceful camp in front of Parliament House which continues as of the time of writing.

Their demand is that the government must immediately take steps to recover the disappeared persons who are in the custody of the intelligence agencies and armed forces.

Mrs. Janjua’s husband has been missing since 2005 after his arrest by the intelligence agencies and since then she filed a case for his recovery which is pending before the Supreme Court, which, has so far, failed to produce him. She, along with many of the family members of missing persons is struggling for the recovery of their loved ones. Since the disappearance of her husband she has been constantly on the streets with other family members. She has also filed many petitions on behalf of other missing persons.

Disappointed with the slow process of the courts she has become very bitter about the Supreme Court and its benches. This is especially so as she was among those groups who joined the fight for the restoration of an independent judiciary and the former chief justice, Iftekhar Mohammad Choudhry. Mrs. Janjua attends court hearings on a daily basis and has moved nearly 70 petitions so far and represented over 750 cases of enforced disappearances. At one time or another she has appeared before every judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the last nine years.

She has said that, “It is observed that the attitude of the Supreme Court towards cases of enforced disappearance has somewhat changed. A case fixed on 9th of April 2014 after 8 months wait was dismissed at once on its very first hearing without letting anyone speak. Another case presented in the Court of Justice Anwer Zaheer jamali, was simply adjourned without any date given. All the high profile old cases are gradually being either shifted to the Commission of Inquiry or disposed off“.

Mrs. Janjua stated that a prime example of this attitude of the court was visible in the case of her husband. A statement by Dr Imran Munir, who has seen Masood Janjua in secret detention, was to be recorded on 31st March 2014. However, she stated with a sigh that, “After the order dated 13th March 2014 was passed for recording of video link statement of Masood’s star witness Dr. Imran Munir, my hopes were becoming higher and higher, expecting that my husband will be home just any day. In the same hearing Justice Khawja remarked that this case was a great trial for the family of Masood and needed a closure.”

However Mrs. Janjua was alarmed when the composition of the bench was changed at the eleventh hour. Justice Jawad S. Khawaja, Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman and Justice Musheer Alam were replaced by Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Justice Saqib Nisar and Justice Dost Muhammad Khan.

She was shocked to the point of bewilderment when during the proceedings Justice Anwer Zaheer Jamali addressed her and said, “How far do we go for you? We have already done enough. Now there is a danger of confrontation of the (state) institutions because of your case.”

It is important to note that with the nation-wide increase in demonstrations and court cases concerning disappearances, the tolerance of the judiciary and the security forces is decreasing in equal measure.

In the recent assassination attempt on a famous anchor personality Mr. Hamid Mir, by unknown persons in the vicinity of the Karachi Airport, one of the reasons for the attack was his coverage of disappearances in Balochistan. He and his brother stated before the attack that he had been receiving threats from different persons, particularly from the ISI for his extensive coverage on the disappearances.

To divert the attention of the public from the issue of disappearances the government and the military are organising rallies by the religious parties and banned organisations in favour of the ISI and military establishments. It has become difficult, if not openly dangerous, to discuss the issue of disappearances as the tolerance levels of the military and the intelligence agencies is dropping rapidly.

Clip_4“We cannot eat, we cannot sleep — we can only hope and that hope is fast dwindling so we pray that our loved ones will be returned to us.”

On April 13, 2011 the three member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan led by Justice Javaid Iqbal heard the cases of the missing persons. Victims from Balochistan whose loved ones were abducted by the state intelligence agencies, individually came before the court and provided the details of their cases.

The relatives of the disappeared persons pointed out to the court that they were tired of testifying before judicial bodies as no apparent results had been seen. They also announced that they would not record their statements in future and that, to their knowledge, others would no longer bother to report as it was becoming more and more obvious that the judicial bodies set up to investigate forced disappearances were simply eye wash.

What this lack of action shows is that the Judicial Commission does not have power to take action against the intelligence agencies.

One Nasrullah said in an impassioned testimony: “We appeal to the court to take action against the heads of the intelligence agencies against whom First Information Report has been filed and issue the arrest warrants and bring them before the court to ask them where Bangulzai is and in which condition he is?

In the case of Ali Asghar Bangulzai the FIR was registered against the ISI and MI.

According to the law ofPakistanit is our right that Supreme Court must take action against the intelligence agencies and give us justice. Because in last 11 years we have knocked the doors of all the departments for seeking justice and peacefully recorded our protests for the recovery of Bangulzai and in these 11 years continuously we are recording the eye witness statements before the courts, different committees, the Judicial Commission and Joint Investigation Team, since then till now we are waiting for justice.

Several times we have recorded the statements of the evidences and we became tired of recording statements every time, from now we will not record evidences statements before any department. Now we need such department or person which can give us justice in the light of these evidences, because the family of Bangulzai became tired knocking all the doors of the departments again and again which are made for justice, for seeking justice and now we must be told that if he has been killed during detention or he is alive we must be told because family of Ali Asghar Bangulzai is facing many problems including financial problem.”

On this point Nasrullah said that intelligence agencies were more powerful than the Judicial Commission and that this is why the commission has not taken any affective action against the intelligence agencies. It is because of this that the intelligence agencies in the meetings with the Judicial Commission do not take the matter seriously. In fact, when asked they merely laugh, saying this person is not with us.

Despite the weight of the evidence provided by the witnesses to the head of the commission no action is taken even when the heads of the intelligences agencies report to the commission that their denial of the presence of disappeared persons in their custody is a routine reply.

In fact, high officials of the Judicial Commission have confessed that the denial of keeping the persons with them is their stereo typed statement yeh hamara takya kalam hai (this is our routine stereo way of denial).

From this, Nasrullah said, “… is clear that the Judicial Commission record the statements knowing full well that they do not have the power to take action against the intelligence agencies. It shows the fact that the commission records the statements to extend and make the issue of missing persons long. For this reason we appeal to Supreme Court on the presence of this evidence. The Court should take action against the intelligence agencies.”

They told the Court that the only ones who can feel our pain are those whose brother, father, or son or daughter is missing. They do not know from one day to the next if their loved ones are dead or alive. At night time, they often sit with their eyes fixed on the front door, hoping against hope that the missing persons will walk through it. Until that happens they cannot sleep or eat without thinking about that person. They live on hope that is fast dwindling.

Mr Justice Javaid Iqbal, the head of the bench, ordered the Minister of the Interior of Balochistan province, the Federal Secretary of the Interior, the Chief Secretary of Balochistan and the Inspector General of Police, Balochistan to appear before the next hearing and submit reports about the missing persons.

It is difficult to verify cases of enforced disappearance in Balochistan and there is thus a need to document these cases to ensure that those in unlawful detention are freed, the illegal practice is brought to an end, and no enforced disappearance case escapes attention.

Enforced disappearances continue in Pakistan despite criticism in the media and notice taken by the courts.

Verification of the actual number, particularly in Balochistan, is difficult and sometimes impossible. The nationalists claim the figure is in thousands. The authorities have put the number from scores to several hundred, which obviously is an understatement.

However, the problem is that when it comes to documentation the task is not as easy as some people suppose.

Sometimes figures received from various sources get mixed up and the possibility of error becomes greater.

There is an apparent discrepancy in figures used in several documents. For instance, the number of cases before the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances that is at work now was 471 from across Pakistan in March 2012. No one can vouch for those figures. We are trying our best to ascertain as many cases as of disappearance as we can and in this we seek the cooperation of the families, civil society organisations and indeed all concerned.

Disappearances — the higher judiciary takes their hands off the trials involving military personnel

The Supreme Court, Pakistan Army and Balochistan government unite to shield the military perpetrators in cases of disappearances

The case of the disappearance of Mr. Ali Asghar Bangulzai and the manner in which the courts and the military are dealing with the case shows a remarkable lack of sensitivity and exposes the invisible adherence of the courts to the dictates of the military.

Mr. Bangulzai who has been missing for the last 13 years was the first Baloch political activist to be forcibly disappeared during the Musharraf régime. The family members of the victim have been struggling since then for his safe recovery. They have knocked on the doors of all the state institutions, to no avail.

After the arrest of Mr. Bangulzai in 2001, three cases were heard in the Balochistan High court. The court directed the Police to investigate and file a FIR against the military and intelligence agencies. The police, under pressure from the military recorded statements from the eye witnesses but did not file an FIR against the state run spy agencies.

At the end of 2006 the Balochistan High Court in the third hearing of the case made its decision for Mr. Bangulzai’s safe recovery and his production in court. However, as is usual, no action was taken by the police and local administration. Mr. Bangulzai’s family members then filed a Constitutional Petition in Supreme Court of Pakistan in February 2007. In 2010, on the orders of the Supreme Court the FIR on the disappearance of Mr. Bangulzai by the military and its agencies was filed and registered. It was the first ever case in Balochistan that an FIR was filed against the high officials of the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies. The names of General Qadir, then governor of the military government and now incumbent Federal Minister; Colonel Bangash, and Brigadier Siddique were named in the FIR.

After the FIR was filed the police was compelled to start an investigation into Mr. Bangulzai’s case. A former member of the MNA Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, Mohammad Iqbal (who was abducted along with Ali Asghar) and some 12 other persons recorded their statements before the Judicial Commission and Joint Investigation Team.

In March, 2012, the police brought the investigation report to the attention of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. On the basis of the report the Supreme Court held Brigadier Siddique to be the main accused in the case of Mr. Bangulzai’s disappearance and directed the Inspector General of Police (IG) to arrest him. On the direction of the IG, police officers under the supervision of the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) went to Khyber Paktoon Khwa (KPK) province to arrest the Brigadier.

The team submitted its report in the Supreme Court in which they reported, “We went to the residence of Brigadier Siddique, a person came out from his home and told that the Brigadier’s wife is not well and he has taken her to hospital. The team then visited hospital but could not find either the Brigadier or his wife”.

The police assured the Supreme Court that they will soon have Brigadier Siddique in custody but after the passing of two years he remains free.

Last year the Supreme Court transferred the cases of missing persons from the police to the Crime Investigation Department (CID) and directed the CID to take action against the concerned officials of the agencies. Since then the CID police have on two occasions submitted a report in the Supreme Court that they went to arrest the Brigadier but have been unable to find him.

Mr. Nasrullah Baloch, the chairman of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) stated in the court that the Brigadier is getting his pension from the government and therefore cannot be arrested as he is not a common person but a Brigadier of the Pakistan Army. The VBMP chairman stated to the court that until the Brigadier’s pension is stopped, along with all the other official perks, it would not be possible for the police to arrest him. At the beginning of 2013 Brigadier Siddique was arrested on the orders of the Supreme Court. He was held for about one hour before being released by the police. This was on the Brigadier’s assurance that he would appear before the Supreme Court at the next hearing. However, when he appeared before the court he appealed that he must be given a chance to have legal counsel with him and that he was not feeling well. Accordingly the court permitted him to have a counsel in order to prove his innocence.

The Brigadier then submitted a case before a Magistrate to cancel the FIR against him and it was accepted as he belongs to a powerful institution and the Magistrate could not stand before the military. In doing so the Magistrate ignored all the court procedures and laws.  He was released by the Magistrate who showed no respect for the orders of a superior institution, the Supreme Court.

Again on the request of the chairman, VBMP to shift the Brigadier’s case from the Magistrate’s Court to the Supreme Court as the police and Magistrate are dealing above the law and outside their remit. The Supreme Court ordered the CID to produce the report of the Magistrate. However, twisting the facts about the case of the Brigadier, a DSP of the CID informed the court that the Magistrate has granted bail to the Brigadier. The Supreme Court showed its anger by demanding to know how a Magistrate could grant the bail and ordered the DSP to produce the order of the Magistrate. Then the DSP revealed his connivance in the matter and told the court that the Magistrate had, in fact, not given him bail. He admitted that it was the CID that had granted him bail on Machlka (a personal surety bond).

The Chief justice shouted at the DSP and asked him to explain why he had stated that the Magistrate had granted bail to the Brigadier when it was, in fact, the CID who had done so on Machlka. The court was surprised to see that an accused person in such a case had been released on personal bond. However, the attitude of the DSP was still very insulting towards the whole judicial process when he stated that the CID had released him due to lack of evidence.

In reply the Chief Justice announced that the Supreme Court had all the necessary, concrete evidence in the case of the disappearance and it was not for the CID to tell the court that there was no evidence in the case. The Chief Justice asked him whether the court is to decide a case or allow an ordinary police officer to decide who is innocent and who is not? The Chief Justice went on to say that the court has held the brigadier to be a culprit and that he was given all possible facilities to prove himself innocent but chose not to. Finally the Chief justice told the officer that he had done a supra judicial act and that stern action would be taken against him.

During a tea break in the court proceedings the DSP and an Inspector of the CID approached the Chairman of the VBMP and Mr. Bangulzai’s family members and tendered their apologies for lying before the court. They requested Nasrullah Baloch and the family not to file an application against them in the Supreme Court as they both had small children and the court would punish them harshly. However, they showed no compassion towards the family of Mr. Bangulzai. The police officials confessed that they released the Brigadier on pressure from the army and the intelligence agencies. Mr. Nasrullah advised them, first to cancel the release of the Brigadier on bail and obtain a warrant of arrest from the same Magistrate.

In compliance the officers went to the Magistrate’s Court and obtained the cancellation of the bail order and also procured the warrant of arrest. They submitted these documents before the Supreme Court on the same day and promised the court that they will arrest him before the end of the day. However, after the passage of one year the Brigadier has still not been arrested and no report has been submitted before the court.

Beside the case of Mr. Bangulzai, the Supreme Court ordered the IG to investigate cases of missing persons from Balochistan province. The IG submitted a report that the intelligence agencies are involved in missing persons cases.  The police submitted video footage in the court to prove that the agencies were, in fact, involved. On the orders of the Supreme Court a judicial inquiry was conducted which revealed that the Army and intelligence agencies were involved in missing person’s cases.

As the Superior judiciary came to the conclusion that the intelligence agencies of the military were involved in disappearances these agencies started forcing the provincial government to send the cases involving military officers to the army courts so that civilian courts could not try them. The military succeeded in pressuring the provincial government of Balochistan to send such cases to the military courts under the Army Act. On 25 and 26 March, 2014, during the court proceedings of the Supreme Court counsel for the intelligence agencies informed the court that the provincial government had agreed to allow cases involving the military to be tried in military courts.

The irony is that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has come under the same pressure from the army as the provincial government of Balochistan for allowing military officers to be tried under the army act. The Supreme Court also advised Mr. Nasrullah Baloch that if he were not satisfied with the decision of military court then he can contact the Supreme Court for justice. Mr. Nasrullah begged the Supreme Court that in view of the fact that more than 13 years had passed in the civil courts without finding justice the Supreme Court was forcing the family members of the disappeared persons to go through the same process. In doing so the Supreme Court has shown its unwillingness to help the families of disappeared persons.

The provincial government of Balochistan also refused to review its decision about sending the cases against military officials to the military court on the request of family members of the disappeared persons.

Pakistan has the largest number of enforced disappearances in recent years and the irony of the situation is that the governments, at federal and provincial levels, the courts that claim to be providing justice to the ordinary persons and the army, which has the responsibility to safeguard the country is conniving in the abductions and extrajudicial killings rather than upholding the law of the land, the constitution and international norms for respecting the dignity of the citizens and providing them with security.

It is virtually impossible for anyone to obtain justice in Pakistan when the very institutions of justice are working hand-in-hand with the perpetrators of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

The very fact that the military have forced the provincial government and the courts to allow cases involving their personnel to be tried in military courts is proof positive that they are trying conceal their involvement. In this manner they will be able to cover their tracks.

It is unbelievable for the people of Pakistan that after they struggled so hard for the independence of the judiciary it is this very judiciary that is failing them in their hour of need. The pillars of justice were resurrected by the people and they are now toppling on the very people that erected them.

It is also unbelievable for the people of Pakistan that in the presence of a strong military institution the citizens were brave enough to chose and elect the people of their choice. It is the elected government that is now polishing the shoes of the military to show their loyalty and sincerity.