Mar 14, 2009

Violation of fundamental rights

The police pounced on many others, none of whom had committed a crime, and who had no opportunity to violate the odious Section 144. “No person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law” (Article 9), proclaims the constitution. But law-enforcement personnel operate with impunity under Rehman Malik, while the sight of an emasculated judiciary appears to provide joy to Asif Zardari. “Every citizen shall have the right to move freely throughout Pakistan” (Article 15) is another constitutional guarantee, but for those wanting to participate in the long march this is rendered meaningless. Scores of lawyers were arrested whilst leaving Karachi. Is our own government emulating the despotic Taliban without whose permission travel cannot be undertaken? “Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully” (Article 16) proclaims the constitution, but citizens are prevented from assembling. British imperial power enacted Section 144 in 1898, a device to keep the natives from becoming restless. After more than a century, governments continue to take recourse to this instrument of oppression that violates the constitution. Fundamental rights, “shall not be suspended” says Article 8(5), but the one holding the baton of presidency rides roughshod over the constitution. “Every citizen shall have the right to form associations” (Article 17) is yet another fundamental right which is being denied. The ‘association’ — the lawyers’ movement — that lawyers have formed with civil society, is anathema to the present dispensation. ‘Rehman Malik warns of terrorist attacks during long march’ (Dawn, March 13,) — for once he has kept his word. “The freedom of the press” (Article 19) assured by the constitution does not shine upon the PTV network. Nails have been driven through the hands of this public organisation. Every private television channel thinks that it is newsworthy to show what the chief justice, the leadership of Pakistan’s second largest party and a distraught civil society is saying. Not PTV. This abuse does not end just yet. Our security czar has instructed that private trucks and containers obstruct public highways and public roads. “No person shall be deprived of his property” (Article 24) — but these are words in the wind. There is also the little matter of, “All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law” (Article 25). In Animal Farm, those who control the government proclaim, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, a telling description of the prevailing hypocrisy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Pakistan is a signatory, mandates the, “right to liberty and security of person” (Article 3), “freedom of movement” (Article 13), “freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” and prohibits “arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (Article 9). Benazir Bhutto was posthumously awarded the UN Human Rights Award for, “her outstanding contribution to promoting democracy and fundamental freedoms”. What irony that those who lay claim to her legacy have left no stone unturned in violating democracy and fundamental freedoms. The Declaration proclaims that “inalienable rights is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace” and “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”. “It is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” Extremists thrive because dictators stifle legitimate civil society. The government has been meekly handed over to terrorists in Swat. But no meekness is witnessed in targeting the law-abiding, the unarmed, the women and the helpless. The Taliban and the TNSM of Sufi Muhammad do not have the mandate of the people who are ruled by fear and force of arms. Significantly, those calling the shots, Asif Zardari, Rehman Malik, Farooq Naek, Babar Awan and Latif Khosa, and to an extent Sherry Rehman, did not have their names on any ballot paper that was cast on Feb 18, 2008. They, like Musharraf, were elected subsequently; indirectly. It is the assemblies of Pakistan that are the repository of the public mandate. However, the coterie wielding power disregards the prime minister, who ostensibly and constitutionally happens to be the chief executive of Pakistan, but whose performance leaves a lot to be desired. Those elected by hundreds of thousands have public credibility and a greater standing than those elected by a few dozen voters in a controlled environment, one where deals are struck, coercion exercised and the mandated secrecy of voting breached as demonstrated by the chief minister of the NWFP who held up his ballot during the presidential election to remove any suspicion that he may not have done as bid. The Pakistan Taliban pay no heed to the constitution, neither does this government. True to form, the US and the Pakistan Army prefer authoritarianism to constitutionalism, but then pray tell us, why fight the Taliban? The Taliban say that in the areas they control there is no need for lawyers. Now that’s a thought for the petty dictators of Pakistan. By Qazi Faez Isa

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