Enforced disappearances: ‘Let’s solve this problem once and for all,’ CJP Isa remarks

Published January 2, 2024
CJP Qazi Faez Isa presides over a hearing. — DawnNewsTV/File
CJP Qazi Faez Isa presides over a hearing. — DawnNewsTV/File

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa on Tuesday said that the Supreme Court wanted to solve the problem of missing persons and enforced disappearances “once and for all”.

“This country belongs to all of us, even those who may have other points of view,” he said. “This matter will only be resolved when we all work together and take responsibility. Let’s make Pakistan strong from within. If Pakistan is strong from within, no outside forces can touch it,” the CJP added.

Justice Isa passed these remarks as a three-member bench comprising the CJP, Justice Musarrat Hilali and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar heard a set of petitions against missing persons. One of the pleas included an application filed by former senator and senior lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan.

At the outset of the hearing, which was broadcast live, Advocate Shoaib Shaheen appeared on behalf of Ahsan. He urged the apex court to accept the instant petition and declare that enforced disappearances are “violative of, inter alia, Articles 4 (right of individuals to be dealt with in accordance with law, etc), 9 (security of person), 10 (safeguards as to arrest and detention), 14 (inviolability of dignity of man, etc), 19 (freedom of speech, etc) and 25 (equality of citizens) of the Constitution”.

He further requested the top court to declare that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances “does not adequately comply with legal and international standards”.

Here, the CJP inquired about the commission of inquiry to which the lawyer read out loud a notification issued by the PPP — notifying the constitution of the same — in 2011. Shaheen argued the commission had failed to adequately function and fulfil its responsibilities. “So far, over 2,200 people are still missing and there is no information about them,” he told the bench.

Justice Isa remarked that the formation of a commission was a good thing and asked if the petitioner wanted the body to be dismissed.

At one point during the hearing, Shaheen raised the matter of the disappearances of several political activists, including Usman Dar, Sheikh Rasheed, Sadaqat Ali Abbasi, Azam Swati and others. However, the CJP wondered if these people were willing to come to court.

“We cannot grant you the permission to make the matter political,” he said.

The lawyer mentioned how political activists were “kidnapped” and forced to change their parties. “Are you upset that they left the PTI?” Justice Isa asked. “Should we tell them to come back to the PTI? We don’t have a solution to this.

“There is an English phrase ‘if you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen you should not be in the kitchen’,” the top judge remarked, adding that these were things that could not be used for political purposes.

For his part, Shaheen said the matter of enforced disappearances in Balochistan had also been mentioned in the petition. He further recalled that a bill regarding the same presented by former human rights minister Shireen Mazari had “gone missing”.

“Was she a minister at that time? Did she tender her resignation?” Justice Isa asked. “The problem in Pakistan is that a person on a post does not take responsibility for their job. It is strange that a minister is saying her bill has disappeared.”

Meanwhile, Justice Mazhar remarked that Mazari could have submitted the bill again. Justice Isa inquired about the process of sending a bill to the Senate from the National Assembly, noting that a “serious allegation” had been levelled against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani.

The CJP further noted that the incident occurred during the PTI government. “It is strange that a federal minister is saying that a bill went missing […] when a mistake is being made inside your own house, admit it,” he said, adding that the “missing persons case has become a missing bill case”.

During the hearing, the case of anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan — who had gone missing last year for over four months — was also brought up. However, the CJP asked why the cases of journalists Matiullah Jan and Asad Ali Toor had not been mentioned in the petition.

“Did you talk to these journalists?” he inquired, to which Shaheen said he had taken up “live issues”.

“Once you pick and choose, then we ask you questions,” CJP Isa said, recalling that the case of the aforementioned journalists had come up in court earlier and he was one of the judges who decided on that.

At one point, the lawyer stated that Dr Deen Muhammad Baloch, a Baloch physician and politician, had been missing for 14 years and his family had filed applications in both courts and with the police. However, there was no trace of him for years.

“Moreover, Baloch students have been subjected to short-term disappearances, being picked up, kept in secret detention facilities and released several days later,” Shaheen highlighted. He also claimed that there were “serious allegations” against the state in every third case of missing persons.

Here, Justice Isa said that when he was the chief justice of the Balochistan High Court, cases pertaining to missing persons were heard every Tuesday and recoveries were made.

“I am surprised that there was a sit-in in Islamabad, but there was no mention of it in the petition,” he noted, to which Shaheen said the petition was filed before the protests took place. “You could have filed another petition, this way facts could have come before us,” Justice Isa said.

The CJP also stated that a list should have been provided of missing persons, name-wise and date-wise. In his response, the lawyer said the inquiry commission had been made a respondent in the case and they would provide the report/details on missing persons.

Justice Isa asked if the members of the inquiry commission had been changed after it was first formed. “From 2011 to 2023, the commission has not been changed,” Shaheen replied, to which the CJP promised to find a solution to the matter.

The top judge said he wanted to look at the number of people missing since 2001. “You should provide year-wise data,” Justice Mazhar remarked.

The hearing was subsequently adjourned till 11:30am tomorrow (Jan 3). The CJP said the matter was serious and instructed the lawyer to prepare bullet points on “what can the court do”. He also instructed Shaheen to consult with Defence of Human Rights Chairperson Amina Masood Janjua.

Justice Isa also urged Shaheen against making the matter political, noting that some people were completely ignored in the petition. “This is a public interest matter we have taken notice of. God willing, we will move to resolve it,” he said, adding that everyone had a right to protest.

Further, the CJP said the Attorney General for Pakistan be told to appear before the court tomorrow and briefed on today’s proceedings.

Baloch protesters call for shutterdown protest tomorrow

Meanwhile, Baloch protesters have called for a shutterdown demonstration across the country tomorrow (January 3), saying that state officials were trying to label the Baloch long march and sit-in in Islamabad as “propaganda”.

“The state has consistently shown a half-hearted and uncommitted concern regarding our demands from the beginning,” the Baloch Yakjehti Committee, organiser of the protest demanding an end to enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings in Balochistan, said in a social media post.

“Hence, on Jan 3, we are calling for a shutterdown demonstration across Pakistan. We urge people from all walks of life to advocate and respect our call for the shutterdown strike in the name of humanity and the Baloch nation, aiming to preserve our identity,” it added.

Baloch protesters, who have been camping outside the National Press Club for over a week now, had on December 28 given the government a seven-day ultimatum to fulfil their demands which include the release of all protesters detained during police action, detailed investigation into rights violations in Balochistan, elimination of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, release of all victims of enforced disappearances, restrictions on the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) and elimination of “state-sponsored death squads”.

In a video message shared on social media today, Dr Mahrang Baloch, one of the protest organisers, said the protest march had begun after a Baloch youth was allegedly killed in custody by the CTD.

“Our movement is against the decade-long enforced disappearances and murders of innocent citizens in Balochistan,” she said, adding that all the residents of the province supported the protest.

Dr Mahrang recalled that the Islamabad police had used force to “sabotage” the long march and numerous “fake” first information reports had been registered against protesters across the country. “We have been repeatedly told by the administration they are not ready to work on their policy of Baloch genocide,” she claimed.

She said that over 20 Baloch youths have been forcibly disappeared “once again”. Dr Mahrang demanded that all the Baloch people languishing in illegal custody should be presented before courts and given a right to a fair trial.

Further, she urged the nation to support the Baloch people and their call for the shutter-down strike tomorrow.

The development comes after caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar took exception to the support lent to protesters and said those supporting the demonstration could go join the Baloch militants.

“Advocates of terrorists in Balochistan should go and join them if they are convinced on the veracity of their issue and fight the state along with them, so that we know where they stand and how to deal with them,” he had said during a press conference in Lahore.

Kakar had also insisted that those protesting in Islamabad were the “relatives of those fighting against the state” in Balochistan. “We still respect their right to protest because their dear and near ones disappeared. But they should also know that they [militants] were fighting against the state, with the help of RAW funding and aided by India. It is an armed rebellion, with foreign help,” he had said.

Responding to the PM in a post on X (formerly Twitter), Dr Mahrang said the stance of the protesters had been clear from the beginning.

“From the inception of our movement, our demands have been clear: an end to all forms of human rights violations in Balochistan and the cessation of the Baloch genocide. We’ve presented these demands to the state through the media,” she said.

She noted that the protesters sought to seek negotiations with the state regarding these demands. “Sadly, the world witnesses the continuous irresponsibility and stubbornness of the state, where peaceful protestors endure torture and arrests, and media trials are conducted against this peaceful movement,” she stated.

“Today, the Prime Minister of Pakistan declared victims of enforced disappearances as terrorists, insulting victim families and addressing peaceful political activists in a threatening tone. However, we assert to this state and government that we will persist in informing the world about your oppression and barbarism,” Dr Mahrang vowed.

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