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Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Peshawar to demanding an end to what they say are human rights violations by authorities in Pakistan's tribal regions.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Tens of thousands of ethnic Pashtuns -- led by young the young activist Manzoor Pashteen -- gathered in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar on April 8 for a mass demonstration to demand the protection of the rights of Pashtuns.

RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal correspondents say as many as 60,000 people took part in the gathering, despite a media blackout in much of the country on reports about the demonstration.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), or Pashtun Protection Movement, was started mainly by young Pashtun activists who are demanding an end to what they say are human rights violations by authorities in the country's tribal regions.

They have been calling for the removal of military checkpoints in tribal areas and an end to "enforced disappearances" in which suspects are detained by security forces without due process.

Pashteen, the founder leader of the PTM, told the gathering on April 8 that Pakistan's government needs to form a judicial commission to investigate alleged extra-judicial killings in Pashtun-dominated regions of Pakistan.

He said police and security officials must bring before the courts all Pashtuns who have been detained and listed by authorities as "missing."

If found not guilty of allegations against them, Pashteen said, authorities must free detained suspects.

Pashteen also said Pakistan's government needs to clear landmines from the war-torn tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.

Hundreds of women and children were among the participants in the April 8 demonstration, with some addressing the gathering

One woman who spoke to the rally, Basro Bibi from the Khyber tribal area, said her husband has been listed for several years by authorities as "missing."

She accused Pakistan's powerful Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency of being behind his disappearance and many other "enforced disappearances" in the tribal regions.

Missing Relatives

Hundreds of other people attending the rally held photographs of their missing relatives, including captions with their names and the dates they went missing.

Two left-wing Pakistani political parties, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and Balochistan’s National Awami Party, took part in the April 8 demonstration. But prominent leaders of other Pashtun nationalist and religious parties did not participate, despite vows in February that they would give their full support to the PTM.

Pakistan's government rejects allegations that security forces or its intelligence service is responsible for enforced disappearances.

Authorities say military checkpoints are necessary in the tribal areas in order to combat Islamic extremist militants, including Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement first staged a 10-day sit-in protest in Islamabad in February in response to the January killing of 27-year old Naqeebullah Mehsud during what Pakistani police described as a raid on a “terrorist hideout” in eastern Karachi.

Pakistani police claimed Mehsud was a member of the Pakistani Taliban.

'Encounter Killing'

Mehsud’s relatives in his native South Waziristan, where he was buried, deny that he was a militant.

They claimed he was the victim of an "encounter killing" -- a situation where police allegedly carry out an extrajudicial killing because they do not have enough evidence to convict a suspect in court.

The PTM halted its first Islamabad sit-in protest in mid-February after the government provided written assurances that it would address the group's complaints.

But the PTM relaunched demonstrations in March, saying it was disatisfied with the government's progress toward keeping its promises.

Meanwhile, the PTM appears to have been gaining popular support in the tribal regions and in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province with continued calls for an end to what it describes as the "persecution" of ethnic Pashtuns.

Rights groups also have said so-called "encounter killings” are common in Pakistan.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HCRP), an independent rights organization in Islamabad, says Pakistani police reports listed the killing of at least 318 suspects during raids and shootouts in Karachi during 2016.

The PTM says it is simply demanding the rights that Pakistani citizens are meant to be guaranteed under Pakistan's constitution.

Similar demonstrations in solidarity with the PTM protest were held on April 8 in Germany, Sweden, Australia, and Afghanistan.

An election campaign poster for Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev who is expected to easily win a new term of office later this month.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Azerbaijan's authorities have cleansed the political landscape of "virtually all formal avenues of expressing dissent" ahead of next week’s snap presidential election that is set to hand longtime President Ilham Aliyev a new term.

"When it comes to silencing critics, Azerbaijani authorities have been industrious and methodical," the New York-based media watchdog said in an April 6 statement.

CPJ said that "throwing journalists in jail, abducting them from abroad, accusing them of financial misdeeds, blocking websites, hacking social media accounts, [and] imposing travel bans" have been among the tactics used by Aliyev's government to try to ensure that "the independent media are muzzled and critical voices silenced."

Meanwhile, opposition candidates have been "either jailed or barred" from running in the April 11 presidential election, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) said.

Aliyev in February issued a decree bringing forward the date of the election initially set for October, without explaining the reasons for the decision. Azerbaijan's two main opposition parties have called for a boycott of the vote.

Aliyev has ruled the South Caucasus country of nearly 10 million people since shortly before his father's death in 2003. Azerbaijan's opposition, as well as Western governments and international human rights groups have criticized Aliyev's government for persistently persecuting independent media outlets, journalists, and opposition politicians and activists, something which Azerbaijani officials have denied.

Critical reporters face "daily restrictions" inside Azerbaijan, CPJ said on April 6, while authorities are also trying to silence those who chose to live and work from abroad to avoid arrest or harassment.

But the NGO said international pressure on Azerbaijani authorities “has had some impact.”

It quoted Mehman Aliyev, who heads the independent Turan News Agency, as saying he thinks that pressure from the United States over his arrest in August on charges of tax evasion and abuse of power played a key role in his release.

In November, Turan said that all charges against the agency and its director were dropped, and that Aliyev, who has no relation to the Azerbaijani president, was told that all restrictions previously placed on his movements were lifted.

In the meantime, U.S. lawmakers passed an amendment to the FY2018 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill which instructed the department to bar the entry of Azerbaijani officials into the United States if they were involved in Aliyev’s imprisonment.

Speaking to CPJ from Baku, the journalist said Senator Richard Durbin's amendment as well as pressure from other U.S. senators, were "directly responsible" for his release.

"The amendment was passed on September 7. I had a court hearing the following day. When the authorities heard of the amendment, the security services told me President Aliyev had just heard about my case and was concerned," Aliyev said.

Alex Raufoglu, a Washington-based Azerbaijani journalist who contributes to Turan, urged the international community to step up pressure on Baku ahead of the presidential election.

"Once reelected for another seven-year term -- and I see no obstacles to that -- Aliyev will listen to his foreign partners even less," he told CPJ.

In December, the group found at least 10 journalists behind bars in Azerbaijan in relation to their work, making the country one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world.

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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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