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Thousands of young people protested in Quetta in March for the recovery of missing persons and the rights of Pashtuns.

In a new report, Pakistan’s leading watchdog has said the country has failed to make progress on several issues over the past year, citing forced disappearances, women’s rights violations, and protection of religious minorities.

The report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), issued on April 16, said that people continue to disappear in the country, including journalists and bloggers who criticize the military or those who advocate better relations with neighboring India.

"Journalists and bloggers continue to sustain threats, attacks, and abductions and blasphemy law serves to coerce people into silence," the report said.

Last year, several activists and journalists who challenged Pakistan's military were detained, including five bloggers who subsequently fled the country after their release. From exile, some of them said their captors were agents of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI.

"It is high time that we sign the international convention on enforced disappearances," HRCP spokesperson I.A. Rehman told reporters.

"We won't see any end of these disappearances until all those involved are prosecuted," he added.

According to HRCP, Pakistan's commission of inquiry on enforced disappearances received 868 cases in 2017 alone.

The report also noted that violence against women remains widespread, with 5,660 related crimes reported in the country's four provinces in the first 10 months of 2017.

It said conservative groups continue to resist laws aimed at curbing violence against women, giving greater rights to women and reducing gender segregation.

"Freedom of expression and freedom of association is under attack, except for those who carry the religious banner," Rehman said at the release of the report, which accused authorities of ignoring "intolerance and extremism."

The report said that religious minorities continue to be targeted by extremists, citing attacks on Shi’a, Christians falsely accused of blasphemy against Islam, and members of the Ahmedi sect.

The 296-page report was dedicated to one of the commission's founders, prominent rights advocate Asma Jahangir, whose death by cardiac arrest in February dealt a blow to the country’s embattled rights community.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP
Yevhen Panov

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- Ukrainian national Yevhen Panov pleaded not guilty to sabotage charges as a Russia-imposed court in annexed Crimea started his trial on April 16.

Panov called the charges against him "fantasies created by the investigators" and rejected them.

Russian authorities arrested Panov and another Ukrainian national, Andriy Zakhtey, in August and charged them with being a "saboteur group" that was planning a series of terrorist attacks on the peninsula.

Zakhtey, who pleaded guilty in an agreement with investigators, was tried in February and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.

Kyiv has rejected Russian charges against the two men and has called their arrests "a provocation."

Russia has prosecuted and imprisoned several Ukrainians on what rights activists say are trumped-up, politically motivated charges since Moscow seized control of the Crimea region in March 2014.

In March 2017, the European Parliament called on Russia to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who were in prison or other conditions of restricted freedom in Russia, Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

Russia moved swiftly to seize control over Crimea after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power in Kyiv by the pro-European Maidan protest movement.

Russia also fomented unrest and backed opponents of Kyiv in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 people have been killed in the ensuing conflict since April 2014.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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