NEW YORK: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday expressed concern over the 'excessive' use of force by Pakistani authorities against tenant farmers protesting for land rights in Punjab's Okara district.
In a statement issued to the media, the US based organisation urged the government to ensure that security forces follow the United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and use non-violent means as far as possible before resorting to the use of force.
The statement brings to government's attention the fact that farmers in Okara district had planned to peacefully convene on April 17, 2016. A day before police had arrested Anjuman-i-Mazareen Punjab (AMP) secretary general Mehr Abdul Sattar and the district administration imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to restrict the gatherings.
The farmers protested following Sattar's arrest and threw stones at law enforcement officials, who used tear gas and baton charged them to break up the protest. The Okara district police registered more than 4,000 cases under the penal code and the anti-terrorism law, claimed the statement.
"In some cases, including that of Mehr Abdul Sattar, the police are refusing to provide information on the whereabouts of those arrested, which amounts to an enforced disappearance in violation of international law. Individuals forcibly disappeared are at a grave risk of being tortured or otherwise ill-treated," said the statement.
“Blocking a peaceful meeting, arresting organisers, and then using excessive force against demonstrators shows a complete disregard for basic rights in a democratic society,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Adams urged the government to release those wrongfully held, provide information on those ‘disappeared and hold accountable soldiers and police who used excessive force.
Mehr Sattar's brother speaks
"On April 16, I heard footsteps and loud noises coming from the front gate of our house. I ran towards the gate. Around 40 to 50 police officers had broken into our house apart from the local Station House Officer (SHO). They started dragging and beating my brother and dragged us both out of the front gate. There were at least 12 police vehicles outside in the street. Then they took him away," says Mehr Abdul Jabbar.
Abdul Jabbar claims that the police has refused to tell him why Sattar was arrested while the district government officials claim that they have detained him under the Maintenance of Public Order law.
"To this day we do not know where the police have taken Sattar. Anyone who tries to question the detention of Sattar and the other farmers is implicated in false cases and arrested. Our fault is that we are sons of a poor farmer who have become aware of our rights to our land," Abdul Jabbar told HRW.