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Mercy plea to the president

Updated November 23, 2017

Email

MR Mamnoon Hussain
President, Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Mohtaram Sadar,
I am taking the liberty of seeking Your Excellency’s intervention to secure an end to the plight of six individuals. One of them is a woman journalist and defender of human rights, another is a young teacher from across the border, and the other four are young students who were unfortunately born into Baloch families.

Zeenat Shahzadi, a young and poor journalist without any clout, had dreams of helping her fellow human beings. She was abducted from outside her house in Lahore on July 11, 2015, and her name was added to the list of victims of enforced disappearance. Since I am not sure that the press clippings presented for your perusal include reports of mundane affairs such as disappearances, I believe it is necessary to tell this young woman’s tale of woe in some detail.

When Zeenat Shahzadi learnt that an Indian named Hamid Ansari was in trouble for trying to help a Pakistani girl, she thought this was a case that could help her establish herself as a bold human rights defender and a skilful journalist. She persuaded Hamid Ansari’s mother to grant her authority/ permission to pursue the matter before the Peshawar High Court. She also met the Indian high commissioner at a public meeting, probably to seek his help in the case.

All this was not considered an infringement of any law as no legal action was taken against her. Her disappearance was referred to the Commission of Inquiry into Enforced Disappearances then headed by retired Supreme Court justice Javed Iqbal.

The human rights community is concerned at Zeenat Shahzadi’s disappearance for the second time.

The commission held a number of meetings in Lahore and heard the reports of the police and a joint investigation team including representatives of the intelligence services but they could not trace Shahzadi. Her family was devastated. Driven to despair her younger brother chose to end his life.

Then one fine morning, a few weeks ago, Mr Javed Iqbal personally rang up the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and announced that Shahzadi had been reunited with her family. The community of human rights activists across the globe was so overjoyed that it chose not to discuss the version that Shahzadi had been recovered from the clutches of some non-state actors on the border in Balochistan.

Shahzadi’s return was confirmed by her mother but telephonic access to Shahzadi was not possible. Sometime later the mother said that they were in an Islamabad hospital. That was the last time the mother answered a call.

Excellency, the entire human rights community, in Pakistan and abroad, is concerned at Zeenat Shahzadi’s disappearance for the second time. It should be possible for you to oblige the persons who are keeping Shahzadi out of public view to bring her into the open. It may not be impossible for them to find their way to the nearest press club or to a court to get her statement recorded. The Supreme Court has been asking for the recording of victims’ statements after they have been recovered.

The second person on my list is Hamid Ansari. He was working as an assistant professor at an Indian management institute. Through Facebook he became friendly with a girl belonging to Kohat and when she feared the denial of her rights, he decided to come to her rescue. He could not get a Pakistan visa but was able to fly to Afghanistan and enter Pakistan, though without valid papers. He was arrested from a hotel in Kohat on Nov 14, 2012. Thus, for five years he has been in the custody of the Pakistani authorities. Charged with espionage and not with illegal entry into Pakistan, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment by a military court.

There is no doubt that Hamid committed an offence but his motives, love or a desire to help a woman in distress, are strong mitigating circumstances. He has already suffered enough for his naiveté.

In a letter to the writer, Hamid’s mother has requested her appeal for mercy to be forwarded to the competent authority. Hence, this letter. Her prayer is that the period of Hamid’s detention (three years) before conviction may be counted as sentence served, that he may he be released on humanitarian grounds, and that he may be allowed to talk to his family on the phone.

Mohtaram Sadar, your government has shown clemency to foreign nationals who have committed far graver offences than Hamid Ansari. The country’s credit for listening to humanitarian calls will go up and the chances of relief for Pakistani citizens in Indian prisons might improve if you could remit the remaining period of Hamid’s prison term.

Finally, I solicit your intervention in the case of the alleged disappearance after arrest of four Baloch student activists — Sanaullah, Hassam, Naseer and Rafeeq. I know the official reply would be yeh tau roz hota rehta hai (this keeps happening every day). But jo roz hota hai woh kisi na kisi din bund karna hoga (whatever happens every day has to be stopped someday). If these students have committed an offence, they may be tried in an open court. Their right to meet the family and their counsel and to a fair trial, with normal guarantees of respect for due process, cannot be compromised. Kindly tell the authorities concerned that highhandedness in dealing with the youth will only accelerate the Baloch people’s alienation from the state. The Baloch can be won over only by showing due respect to them and their rights.

It might be said that the law must take its course. But I have written to you precisely because the law has not been taking the course in these cases from which it must not deviate.

I am sorry for not approaching Your Excellency through the prescribed channels, but I have reason to believe that the president of the Islamic Republic cannot ignore a call for mercy regardless of the route it takes.

Yours faithfully
I. A. Rehman, a human rights activist

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2017