Amnesty International has urged Pakistan to end the "current crackdown" on human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and members of civil society ahead of next month’s general elections.
In a June 14 statement, the London-based rights watchdog denounced the “ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, attacks on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” in the lead up to the July 25 polls.
The vote comes at a time of growing political instability, with the ruling PML-N party accusing the military of interfering in politics. The army denies involvement in politics.
“Key freedoms are under relentless attack in Pakistan, with the authorities cracking down on dissent, whether it takes place on the streets, on television news channels, in newspaper columns, or on social media,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, deputy director for South Asia at Amnesty.
The group called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of 37 activists it said were currently detained in the city of Rawalpindi for participating in peaceful protests against extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations.
Amnesty said it was also “deeply concerned by the hours-long arbitrary detention” of British-Pakistani journalist and rights activist Gul Bukhari earlier this month.
Bukhari, who has been a critic of the Pakistani military, was abducted in the eastern city of Lahore on June 6 and held for several hours by unknown men before being freed, her family and colleagues said.
Pakistan's army denied it was involved in the abduction, which occurred a day after a military spokesman warned at a press conference that it is monitoring citizens who criticize Pakistan, amid a growing crackdown on free speech in the country.
Amnesty also said that Dawn has seen its circulation “heavily disrupted in the country while the newspaper has come under intense pressure for its independent editorial policy.”
“Similar pressure has been applied on the Jang media group,” it added.
“Pakistan once proudly boasted a lively and independent media. This, sadly, has stopped being the case. People can no longer speak or write freely,” Dissanayake lamented.