Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The crackdown continues against pro-democracy demonstrators who have poured into the streets to protest against the state of emergency imposed on Saturday by Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf. More than 110 people were arrested, half lawyers who are leading the fight against the regime in support of ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.
In a telephone address to lawyers in Islamabad Pakistan's sacked chief justice called on the people to "rise up" and take to the streets.
The popular chief justice was sacked and replaced after he refused to endorse the order by which the president suspended the constitution, an act which amounts to ripping it to “shreds.”
Since Saturday thousands of lawyers have been arrested in Lahore and Islamabad. CNN reports that 3,000 or one lawyer in four are in prison, whilst many judges are under house arrest.
Pakistani soldiers have stormed the offices of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission and arrested Irfan Barkat, a member of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Bishops’ Conference.
The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) has condemned today’s wave of arrests involving activists and lawyers and the limits imposed on mass media.
As part of its crackdown the government has decided to monitor national Urdu and English language newspapers. Special officers are scanning news, editorials, and readers’ letters containing material against President Musharraf and the armed forces, media reports said.
However for APMA Chairman Shahbaz Bhatti, the president’s measures weaken the country’s moderate forces, whilst strengthening its extremists.
In a press release APMA said that Pakistan, as member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, should uphold the respect of fundamental rights
Hence, Mr Bhatti urged Pakistani authorities to ensure respect for human rights in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in all circumstances.
In the meantime the government has responded in ambiguous terms to demands from the international community to reinstate democracy.
On the one hand, a spokesperson for the ministry of foreign affairs said that emergency rule is an internal Pakistani affair. On the other, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said yesterday that the January elections will go ahead as scheduled. Musharraf has not however confirmed the final date with the information minister warning that the poll could still be delayed by a year.
The government called a meeting for today to discuss the state of emergency as the United States added its voice to those in Pakistan, like former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who want President Musharraf to quit as army chief.
But despite its criticism Washington considers Pakistan a key ally in the fight against terrorism and has not taken any concrete steps against it. In fact it remains unclear whether US authorities will review their economic aid to the South Asian nation which has received about US$ 10 billion in the past five years.