United States representative for California’s 32nd Congressional district, Brad Sherman on Tuesday said that the Pakistan government should respect the right of citizens to speak, to organize, and to demonstrate peacefully.
The US Congressman wrote a letter to the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on human rights and democracy in Pakistan. He said, “It is critical that we see a calm, orderly, democratic, and prosperous Pakistan where Pakistanis can have a free and open political dialogue.”
Sherman in his letter asked Blinken to guide the US’ Pakistan policy toward a greater commitment to human rights and to use all US diplomatic channels to urge Pakistani authorities to investigate the alleged abuses and to hold accountable anybody who may be responsible.
Sherman urged the US authorities to make sure that going forward, political figures or citizens in Pakistan who simply want to demonstrate, are not subjected to anti-democratic consequences.
“I am particularly alarmed by incidents over the last year, especially the alleged torture and even sexual abuse of political figures such as former PM Khan’s Chief of Staff Shahbaz Gill and journalist Jameel Farooqui,” Sherman wrote in a letter addressed to Secretary Blinken on Tuesday.
“Thankfully, they both were released, but the chilling effect of their detention and treatment continues to resonate. Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an urgent investigation into Mr. Gill’s complaints, citing “numerous credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment of political opponents* in Pakistan during previous governments,” Sherman further wrote.
As per the US Congressman, HRW also questioned sedition charges against Gill. The April 6 arrest of former Pakistan minister Ali Amin Gandapur added to these concerns.
Sherman said that equally concerning are the multiple cases against Khan, the use of force against his supporters, the detention of protesters under sweeping counter-terrorism laws, and the closing space for free speech.
“A concerning example of this is the March 5 ban by Pakistan’s media regulator of television channels broadcasting speeches and news conferences by Mr. Khan and suspension of the license of private news channel ARY News.”
“This is the third ban on broadcasting and rebroadcasting of the ex-Prime Minister’s speeches and press talks since he was removed from power. Amnesty International called these developments a disturbing demonstration of targeting critical voices and using the country’s media regulatory authority to threaten press freedom.”
“Equally concerning are remarks in late March by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan insinuating former PM Khan will be eliminated from the political arena,” he wrote.
Sherman in his letter to Blinken said he was pleased to see the State Department spokesman’s comment that any implication of violence, harassment, or intimidation has no place in politics, and his encouragement of all sides in Pakistan to respect the rule of law and allow the people of Pakistan to democratically determine their own country’s leadership.
“Efforts by the authorities to delay elections in two key provinces are another sign of skirting democratic processes. The government should respect the Supreme Court ruling that the elections should proceed on a timely basis,” Sherman wrote.
According to Sherman, fair and timely elections are an essential part of democracy.
In Pakistan, “abuses regularly go unpunished, fostering a culture of impunity among perpetrators and fear among victims,” he wrote.
The US Congressman in the letter said that the US-Pakistani relationship is one of the most important foreign policy relationships and accordingly should reflect U.S. priorities regarding democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Pakistan.
He said that it is in the US national interest to support human rights in Pakistan. “We must not shy away from raising our voice when the human rights of the Pakistani people are at stake,” Sherman wrote. (ANI)