11/12/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Musharraf imposes martial law, not a state of emergency

by Qaiser Felix
The president of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission makes the charges, stressing the unconstitutionality of the action and how it violates the population’s human rights. Bhutto ends power-sharing talks with the general.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Yesterday’s promulgation of the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Ordinance, revising the 1952 Pakistan Army Act shows without a doubt that the country is under martial law, not in a ‘state of emergency’ as Musharraf stated earlier in the month, Asma Jahangir, head of the Human Rights commission of Pakistan (HRCP), told AsiaNews.

Like hundreds of other human rights activists and opposition militants, Ms Jahangir has been under house arrest since the start of the crisis, all paying a price for their opposition to the direction the general president is taking the country.

Under the new ordinance, the army is empowered to arrest, investigate and try civilians in a military court if they are found guilty of having committed a crime against the defence, security or armed forces of Pakistan, something so broadly defined that it can include almost anything.

The new legal context limits the role of the courts. Trials will be in camera; lawyers will only be allowed to represent in the capacity of friend of the accused; ordinary rules of evidence will not apply.

According to Ms Jahangir, the amendment is an alarming development and is a violation of both human rights and the constitution of Pakistan. It reintroduces laws adopted under the dictatorship of general Zia that the judiciary had disallowed over time—now the courts are powerless. 

The rules adopted under the amendment cannot be compared to special anti-terrorism laws introduced in the United Kingdom and the United States. In both of these countries the judiciary is still sovereign and opposition members are not treated like enemies of the state as they are in Pakistan.

In order to placate the growing opposition President Musharraf has promised to hold elections by January 9. But this has not satisfied Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party.

Ms Bhutto announced that power-sharing talks were over and that elections could not be free and fair if they were held under emergency rule.

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