ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of former Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote a letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday and called for action against enforced disappearances that it said were being used as an “orchestrated pre-poll rigging campaign” against the party.
Khan, who is serving a three-year jail sentence in a corruption case, has openly accused the powerful military and intelligence agencies of trying to destroy his political party, and said ongoing legal cases against him were a ploy to keep him out of the next general election likely in January. The conviction in the corruption case has effectively barred him from running for public office.
A bruising year-long standoff between Khan, Pakistan’s most popular leader according to polls, and the army came to a head when military buildings and property were ransacked in May by Khan supporters after he was briefly arrested in a separate land graft case. After the violent protests, thousands of Khan supporters were arrested, the PTI says, and scores of its members, including the ex-premier’s closest aides, abandoned the PTI over what is widely believed to be pressure from the state.
The military and the previous government of PM Shehbaz Sharif, which was ruling during the May protests, have denied a crackdown against the PTI and said only those who were involved in the violence would be punished. The caretaker administration of PM Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has said the PTI would get a “level playing field” in the next elections.
“I wanted to bring to your attention perhaps the most serious of all the violations of the law and the Constitution happening right now as part of an orchestrated pre-poll election rigging campaign against PTI, the issue of enforced disappearances,” the PTI’s letter to the chief election commission said.
“The impunity with which individuals linked to PTI are being illegally arrested and disappeared, is perhaps the most blatant and open form of pre-poll rigging happening in the country. Even more than that, it is an exceptionally serious violation of Pakistan’s system of law and justice of the sort that has not been seen before, certainly not in recent history.”
The letter listed six PTI senior members as “victims” of a campaign of enforced disappearances, namely Sadaqat Ali Abbasi, former PTI MNA, missing since September 1, Usman Dar, a former adviser to Khan, missing since September 10, Abdul Kareem Khan, a PTI ticket holder from Lahore, missing since September 19, Awais Younus, PTI Lahore Secretary Information, missing since September 19, Farrukh Habib, a former minister of state, missing since September 27 and Sheikh Rasheed, a key Khan aide, missing since September 17.
The PTI said the disappearances were in violation of several articles of the Constitution of Pakistan, including Article 9 (security of a person), Article 10 (safeguards against arrest and detention under which anyone detained in custody must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours), Article 10A (right to fair trial) and Article 14 (inviolability of dignity of a person and which protects the privacy of homes and bans any form of torture in custody), as well as the constitutionally guaranteed right of life.
The statement reminded the administration of PM Kakar that the caretaker’s primary responsibility was to hold free and fair elections and “be impartial to every person and political party.”
The PTI said the disappearances also contravened Pakistan’s commitments on several international covenants and treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), as well as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED), which is obligatory upon Pakistan under customary international law principles.
The letter named many pro-Khan journalists who had been arrested and later released, and members of former PM Khan’s staff and young volunteers who had disappeared for various lengths of time.
“Unless these people are released, and the law enforcement agencies, and any other agencies involved
are reprimanded to immediately desist from such practices, I am afraid that no question exists of the
upcoming elections being even remotely free or fair,” the statement, which was signed by the party’s secretary general, said.
“We hope that you will treat this matter with the urgency and seriousness it deserves, note what is happening, and discharge your duty in passing immediate and clear instructions to the government to produce these people, and to immediately desist from such activities in the future.”