Apr 18, 2011

Sindh: New Disappearances Cause International Concern

The Asian Human Rights Commission has launched a campaign on Sindh after the latest news of further disappearances of political campaigners, the use of torture to extract information and confessions, and anti-terrorism charges levelled against activists.

Below is an appeal published by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that four activists of a nationalist political group were abducted from a crowded part of Karachi city by the police and plain clothed persons in police and military jeeps when they were ending their six day hunger strike in protest against the second disappearance of their leader who has been missing since 25 February 2011 after his arrest by persons from Army, Rangers and police. The parents of the disappeared person, in an application to different authorities, accuse Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and military intelligence (MI) for the kidnap and disappearance. 

During the past two years around eight persons from the Sindh province have been disappeared after their abduction by the law enforcement authorities. The state intelligence agencies are following the same methods of arrest and disappearance as to what they are doing in Balochistan province for many years for the control of the natural and mineral resources of the province. 

On 11 April 2011, around a dozen activists from Jeay Sindh Mutehda Mahaz (JSMM), a Sindhi speaking nationalist group struggling for greater autonomy of the people of Sindh province on their resources, were going back to their cities after completing their six day hunger strike in front of Karachi Press Club for the recovery of their leader, Mr. Muzaffar Bhutto, who has been missing since 25 February. When they ended their hunger strike they went to a local restaurant close to the inter-city bus terminus. The activists took three wheelers to take the bus but before reaching the bus two double cabin jeeps bearing no registration numbers and one police jeep stopped one three wheeler and off loaded four persons namely, Riaz Kakepoto, district president of Nawabshah city of JSMM, Shah Nawaz Bhutto, president of Daulatpur town, Ali Nawab Mehar member district committee of the organization at Nawabshah and Jam Bhutto, activist at Nwabshah city, Sindh province, and dragged them into unregistered jeeps by the plain clothed persons. The police stopped the traffic flow from main road and cleared the way for the unregistered jeeps to take away the activists. Since then their whereabouts are unknown.

The other persons in the other three wheelers jumped out after seeing the abduction and ran away in the crowd.

The security agencies are searching for terrorists who are involved in doing anti-state activities by carrying out terrorist attacks on railway lines and sensitive communication installations. In this regard the military has previously arrested Mr. Muzaffar Bhutto, the general secretary of JSMM, in October 2005 from Karachi by the military and Rangers and then he was disappeared almost for 14 months. After his release he told the media and anti-terrorist court that he was kept in a military torture cell at Hyderabad, Sindh, Cantonment area and was severely tortured. He was not able to walk properly as his spine was injured due to the military torture and he had to undergo two operations. He told the court that he was tortured by the officials of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to confess that he and his group is running the Sindh Liberation Army (SLA), which has close links with Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and involved in sabotaged activities in the Sindh province.

Mr. Bhutto was again disappeared after his arrest by the law enforcement agencies on 25 February 2011. He was travelling in his car on 25 February with his wife and younger brother, when they were stopped by around twenty men in plain clothes who came out of unmarked cars and were escorted by a number of police waiting at the area of Saeedabad Tool plaza in Hyderabad city of Sindh province. According to eyewitness accounts, after a brief scuffle during which police fired three rounds into the air, Muzaffar Bhutto was forcibly detained at gun point.

Mr Bhutto's wife filed an application for a First Information Report with police to determine what has happened to her husband and lodged an application against the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and police from the district on 28 February. The case was heard on March 10, but representatives of the police and the ISI seldom appear at such hearings, particularly during hearings on disappearance cases.

Muzaffar Bhutto's wife fears for his life as she believes he is held in secret detention and might be tortured or ill-treated and particularly as he suffers from an ulcer and asthma in addition to discomfort as result of the surgery he undertook due to injuries sustained whilst allegedly being tortured during his previous abduction on 6 October 2005. Following the first abduction, he was missing until 8 November 2006, when he was shifted into the custody of police in Jamshoro town of Sindh. Police claimed that they arrested Muzaffar and charged him with an attempt to bomb a gas pipeline and he was transferred to Hyderabad Central Jail. He was later tried in an anti-terrorism court, facing a series of trials but was released on 5 January 2009. According to his relatives, Muzzafar told them he had been detained by agents of the ISI. Muzaffar Bhutto has also faced charges of various other terrorism related crimes of destroying government infrastructure, but has been either released on bail or acquitted.

Two other Sindhi activists were reportedly abducted in October 2009 and since then their families have not heard from them. Aakash Mallah, Vice Chairman of the Sindh nationalist party Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), and JSQM activist Noor Mohammad Khaskheli, were abducted on 30 October 2009, in Sindh province, south-eastern Pakistan (For further information, please see the previous urgent appeal: AHRC-UAC-040-2011). Local sources allege the two men were subjected to enforced disappearances by government security officials. There have been a series of court hearings on the case since then and two officers of the Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), have faced allegations by the police for carrying out the abduction. But still the whereabouts of the two men remain unknown and intelligence agencies have rejected the allegations that the two men are held in their custody.

Since Pakistan became a key ally in the US-led “war on terror” in late 2001, hundreds, if not thousands of people, both Pakistani and foreign nationals have been subjected to enforced disappearances in Pakistan. As a result of this practice, people are kidnapped, held in secret locations outside any judicial or legal system, and are often being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. The clandestine nature of the arrests and detentions of suspects makes it impossible to know exactly how many people have been subjected to enforced disappearance in the last ten years. The practice spread to domestic opponents of the Pakistani government, in particular Baloch and Sindhi nationalists. Held in secret detention out of sight and without charge, without access to their families or lawyers, their fate and whereabouts remain unknown.
To see suggested actions and to read a sample letter, please go to AHRC