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Imran using 'dictatorship-era' body to curb opposition, free speech

Imran using 'dictatorship-era' body to curb opposition, free speech

Things are getting out of control in Pakistan as Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf government is using the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to detain critics of the government, the country's leading Opposition parties have alleged after a latest, damning report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) agency.

Today afternoon saw massive violence outside the NAB office in Lahore as Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of former prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, arrived for an appearance before the authorities in a corruption case. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader posted several videos on social media showing Lahore policemen pelting stones at her car, saying it was a huge "shame" as the government is openly targeting her.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet">
<p dir="ltr" lang="en">Police attacking my car. Imagine if it were not a bullet proof vehicle. Shame. <a href="https://t.co/VtQLJlXFhr">pic.twitter.com/VtQLJlXFhr</a></p>
— Maryam Nawaz Sharif (@MaryamNSharif) <a href="https://twitter.com/MaryamNSharif/status/1293086879722733568?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 11, 2020</a></blockquote>
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PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have been demanding sacking of NAB Chairman, retired Justice Javed Iqbal, as the agency has become a political tool. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has also urged the Pakistani authorities to follow up a recent Supreme Court decision and investigate, prosecute NAB officials responsible for unlawful arrests and other abuses in the country.

On July 20, Pakistan's Supreme Court, in an 87-page decision, ruled that the NAB had violated the rights to fair trial and due process in the arrest of two Opposition politicians, Khawaja Saad Rafique and Khawaja Salman Rafique, whom the NAB detained for 15 months without reasonable grounds. The court granted the men bail and criticized the NAB for showing "utter disregard to the law, fair play, equity and propriety," ruling that the "case was a classic example of trampling of fundamental rights (and) unlawful deprivation of freedom."

"The Pakistani Supreme Court judgment is just the latest indictment of the NAB's unlawful behavior," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Pakistani authorities should stop using a dictatorship-era body, possessing draconian and arbitrary powers, to intimidate and harass opponents."

Pakistan's parliament should carry out urgent reforms to make the anti-corruption body independent, Human Rights Watch said.

In its decision, the Supreme Court also expressed concern about the use of the NAB as an instrument to target government opponents. The court cited a February report by the European Commission that criticized the NAB for bias, noting that "very few cases of the ruling party ministers and politicians have been pursued since the 2018 elections, which is considered to be a reflection of NAB's partiality."
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<p dir="ltr" lang="en">Human rights watch calls out NAB political victimisation of political parties &amp; media. Mentions Saad Rafique, Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, myself &amp; my father. We love to quote <a href="https://twitter.com/hrw?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@hrw</a> on Kashmir but ignore them on Pakistan <a href="https://t.co/If0185gUYj">https://t.co/If0185gUYj</a></p>
— BilawalBhuttoZardari (@BBhuttoZardari) <a href="https://twitter.com/BBhuttoZardari/status/1291639399713837056?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 7, 2020</a></blockquote>
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NAB was created under an ordinance promulgated by the military dictator General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. The ordinance gave NAB unchecked powers of arrest, investigation, and prosecution. The authorities may detain people arrested under the accountability ordinance for up to 90 days without charge. In its decision, the Supreme Court commented on NAB's arbitrary use of powers of arrest, noting that an arrest has to be justified… The power of arrest should not be deployed as a tool of oppression and harassment."

NAB arrested Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, editor-in-chief of the Jang group, the largest media group in Pakistan, in Lahore on March 12 on charges relating to a 34-year-old property transaction. He has remained in the agency's custody ever since.

In another example of harassment, the NAB court summoned the former president and opposition leader Asif Ali Zardari, to appear in person to record a statement, denying his request to record a statement through a video link because of his ill-health and Covid-19. Zardari previously spent 11 years in prison, more than half in NAB custody, without a conviction.

In December 2018, Mian Javed Ahmed, a professor at University of Sargodha, died in NAB’s custody. Dr. Mujahid Kamran, the former vice-chancellor of the Punjab University, who was arrested by the NAB on allegations of illegal appointments at the university, described NAB detention centers as "torture cells."

"Pakistani authorities should uphold the government's human rights obligations," HRW’s Adams said. "Pakistan's parliament should amend or repeal the NAB ordinance to ensure that the principles of fair trial, due process, and transparency are not compromised on the pretext of accountability."

Earlier this year, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the former PM of Pakistan, had called NAB a terrorist organization.

Protest rallies are also being organized all over Pakistan against the arrest of Jang/Geo Media Group editor-in-chief, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, who has been behind bars since March 12.

"There was a nexus between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and both had joined hands to target the governmental opponents and independent media. Speakers in the rally said that the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a 34-year-old property case clearly pointed to victimization," <em>The News International</em> reported on one such rally held in Peshawar yesterday..