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KARACHI: Demanding the recovery of all ‘missing’ persons across the country, several rights organisations on Friday announced that they would launch a nationwide campaign after Ashura for the ‘release’ of Punhal Sariyo who is known for championing for the rights of peasants and workers.

The decision was announced by civil society representatives at a press conference organised by the Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network (SHRDN) and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) at the Karachi Press Club.

The speakers included Mahnaz Rahman of Aurat Foundation, Asad Iqbal Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Saeed Baloch of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Zulfiqar Shah of Piler and Advocate Khadim Ali Kaka.

They said protest demonstrations and press conferences would be organised during the movement for the recovery of Sariyo and other missing persons. Besides, they would hold meetings with leaders of all political parties for the recovery of missing persons in Sindh.

In recent months, they said, a large number of political and social workers and human rights defenders had allegedly been “picked up by the law enforcement agencies along with local police including Punhal Sariyo, who was struggling for the release of the missing persons in Sindh”.

“Despite passage of one-and-a-half months, there is no information about Mr Sariyo, whose family suffers a lot as his only son who recently suffered a heart attack is admitted to a hospital in Hyderabad,” said one of the representatives.

The Hyderabad police claimed that they had not arrested Mr Sariyo, he said, adding that the eyewitnesses confirmed that he had been picked up by law enforces in a vehicle bearing a registration number of Sindh Police.

80 picked up in August

The rights activists said more than 80 political workers and rights defenders had been picked up in a similar manner in a single month of August.

“We demand the federal and Sindh governments to ensure safe recovery of all those persons. If they are required in any case, they may be produced in courts. Fair trial is the fundamental right of every citizen according to the Constitution. However, this right has been denied in the case of Punhal and others,” said a social activist.

Zulfiqar Shah of Piler said: “We are highly concerned about the life of Punhal Sariyo as he had been suffering from various illnesses even before he was picked up. We believe that Punhal is a true human rights defender and a social activist who always stood for poor and marginalised people of Sindh. He worked for the rights of peasants of Sindh.”

In a joint statement, the representatives of the various rights bodies said: “His enforced disappearance in such a manner is tantamount to violation of fundamental human rights. It was only yesterday [Sept 21] that the Hyderabad police registered an FIR [of his disappearance] after the passage of about 50 days.

“We are also disappointed with the role of provincial government of Pakistan Peoples Party, which despite having a progressive face has miserably failed to address this important issue in the province. Silence of provincial government on the issue of enforced disappearances in Sindh is a big question mark on the party.”

Ms Rahman said the issue of missing persons, had badly affected families of the victims and was a major area of concern for the rights activists, it would also cost dearly to the country’s image at international level.

“We are equally disappointed over the performance of various institutions. The Commission on Inquiry on Missing Persons whose term has recently been extended has failed to have any major impact on the provision of relief to the victims’ families.”

The speakers said many people had filed petitions in high courts.

“We appeal to the Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court that the petition regarding missing persons should be heard on a priority basis as it involves the issue of life and liberty.”

Elaborating details of the campaign for the release of Mr Sariyo, the speakers said apart from demonstrations, they would hold hunger strikes and peaceful rallies across the country. “We will be meeting the broader civil society, including bar councils, media bodies and political parties as this issues needs a collective response.”

They stated: “We believe that there are ample laws in our system. People accused of any crime should be arrested, produced in courts and tried as per those laws. But this practice of disappearances is simply unacceptable.”

They said a draft law against enforced disappearances had been pending with the National Counterterrorism Authority [Nacta] since 2014. “We demand the law must be presented in the parliament for its approval.

They urged the government and other authorities to ensure immediate recovery of Punhal Sariyo and other missing activists, and said there was a need to bring an end to “enforced disappearances”.

The rights activists said only those countries could secure their national interests where civic freedoms and accountability mechanisms were in place according to their constitutions and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2017