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Aitzaz Ahsan moves SC against ‘enforced disappearances’ of citizens

ISLAMABAD: Former PPPP senator and senior legal expert Aitzaz Ahsan on Wednesday filed a constitutional petition in the Supreme Court, challenging “the illegal and unlawful practice of enforced disappearances.”

The move comes amid the PTI’s complaints as it faces a months-long crackdown following the May 9 riots that occurred due to party chairman Imran Khan’s arrest.

Last month, anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan was back home after remaining missing for four months.

This month, four PTI-affiliated politicians who were said to have been “missing” — namely Farrukh Habib, Usman Dar, Sadaqat Ali Abbasi and Sheikh Rashid, resurfaced and condemned the party’s policies.

Today, Ahsan filed the petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution (original jurisdiction of Supreme Court) through senior advocate Sardar Latif Khosa.

The plea has made the state, the governments and inspector generals of police (IGP) of all four provinces, the Islamabad IGP, and the ‘Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances’ (CIED) respondents in the case.

It urged the apex court to accept the instant petition and declare that enforced disappearances are “violative of, inter alia, Articles 4 (right of individuals to be dealt with in accordance with law, etc), 9 (security of person), 10 (safeguards as to arrest and detention), 14 (inviolability of dignity of man, etc), 19 (freedom of speech, etc) and 25 (equality of citizens) of the Constitution.

The petition further requested the top court to declare that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances “does not adequately comply with legal and international standards”.

Instead, Ahsan sought the formation of an “effective and purposeful commission” led by a Supreme Court justice with two years ahead of them in office and comprising 11 others — including presidents of the Pakistan Bar Council and the high courts’ bar associations, chairpersons of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and National Commission on Status of Women.

The proposed commission would also include the director general (DG) of the Inter-Services Intelligence, the additional DG of the Intelligence Bureau and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists president.

The plea urged the apex court to “direct the concerned authority to ensure legal and international standards in formation of the commission, so that the amount expended out of the national exchequer for its expenses should be accounted for”.

It further requested for directives to be issued to the federal government and the provincial governments to submit a list of all disappeared persons in state custody to the court.

The petition also sought directives to the same parties to “prepare and submit a report probing and identifying the law enforcement and other officers responsible for the practice of enforced disappearances” in the Supreme Court within four weeks.

Lastly, it asked the court to “issue a writ of habeas corpus for the release of all disappeared persons in the custody of the State, and, order that all such disappeared persons be produced within four weeks” before a high court of competent jurisdiction.

In the plea, Ahsan contended that “recently, there has been a surge of enforced disappearances, and ‘re-appearances’ of citizens”. “Such victims include journalists, politicians, bureaucrats and other dissenting voices,” he added.

It went on to mention the cases of Riaz as well as Rashid and the three PTI leaders who “went missing for weeks, only to ‘re-appear’ on media via talk shows/press conferences delivering from a predictable script”.

The PPP leader asserted, “The same illegal and unlawful practice of enforced disappearances and ‘re-appearances’ also befell bureaucrats such as Azam Khan and Muhammad Ahmad Bhatti.

“That surely as the guardian of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, this honourable court will not look the other way, while the state acts with total impunity,’ he added.

The petition highlighted “similar facts” that were common among the cases: “each one disappears, police deny arrest, no one in the family is aware of his whereabouts and all are fervently anxious, [and] none is produced before a magistrate, each one upon ‘re-appearance’ cannot recall where he has been, and each one switches political loyalties and denounces previous political party and its chairman”.

“Each passing day, citizens ‘disappear’ only to ‘re-appear’ after they publicly express support for the state narrative. Countless citizens still remain missing. The state has a duty to protect its citizens — it must not subjugate its own people,” the plea asserted.

In its ground, the petition argued that the “crime against humanity of enforced disappearances is clearly violative of the Constitution”. “Therefore, this Court can also apply the principles enshrined in the 2006 Convention in order to achieve the ends of justice.”

It further contended that such disappearances violate one’s fundamental rights as well as Pakistan’s international law obligations, citing it was a party to the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ and the ‘Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’.

Missing politicians

Detailing Rashid’s case, the petition purportedly quoted a part of his interview: “He nevertheless in a state of helplessness revealed that “maeray khilaf toh koi shae nahe nikli sawai Twitter keh — ae parho je .. ae parho je .. ae parho je”.

“Clearly, he was interrogated while being [in] held-in isolation as opposed to self-imposed isolation,” the plea contended.

In the cases of Dar and Abbasi, Ahsan cited the proceedings of high courts on pleas seeking their recovery.

Retelling Habib’s case, the plea highlighted that he held a press conference after his reappearance despite a recent ban on providing airtime to proclaimed offenders, as he had been declared so in the Jinnah House attack case.

“Quite clearly, such a ban does not apply upon switching of political loyalties by such individuals,” the plea stated.

Missing bureaucrats, anchorperson

Explaining their cases, the petition said Azam “re-appeared from ‘somewhere’ unknown (unbeknown even to his anxious and agonized family) to become a state approver against his former boss and ex-prime minister.”

In July, Azam had recorded a statement in the Al-Qadir Trust case alleging that former premier Imran Khan retained the original diplomatic cable at the heart of the cipher case.

About Bhatti, a former Punjab Assembly secretary and a close aide to Pervaiz Elahi, the plea stated he “re-appeared from ‘somewhere’ unknown to be charged alongside” the former Punjab chief minister.

In the case of Riaz, the former senator raised the questions: “Where was Imran Riaz Khan recovered from?” and “Have those responsible for his disappearance been identified and held accountable?”

Baloch missing persons

The petition also talked about the matter of Baloch missing persons, which has “historically and disproportionately beleaguered the Baloch people”. Mentioning the case of Dr Deen Muhammad Baloch, it stated that “recently, Baloch students have been subjected to short-term disappearances”.

On Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar’s statement about 50 missing persons in Balochistan, the plea argued the claim was not “backed up by the official figures”. Even if the figure was accurate, “where are these people?”, it asked.

The petition went on to cite several reports, including those by the HRCP, CIED and the United Nation’s agencies.