The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances to submit a “comprehensive report” on missing persons, along with the details of all production orders issued.

The commission, headed by Justice Javed Iqbal, was established in 2011 to trace missing persons and fix responsibility on the individuals or organisations responsible for it.

While hearing a case on the chronic malaise of enforced disappearances today, the SC instructed the commission to prepare a report on all the missing persons cases and provide production orders issued “in each of the cases” to the Attorney General for Pakistan within 10 days.

The orders were passed as a three-member bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Musarrat Hilali heard a set of pleas. Among the petitioners was Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan who highlighted how the unlawful practice of enf­orced disappearances continued unabated, haunting generations upon generations.

A day earlier, the top judge had emphasised that the case held great public importance and that the court intended to resolve the matter for good but insisted that the matter could be settled only if all accepted responsibility.

As the proceedings commenced today, Ahsan’s lawyer Shoaib Shaheen read out loud previous judgments issued on the matter in court. He also mentioned the Faizabad sit-in case. However, the CJP asked how the case was linked to enforced disappearances.

“Enforced disappearances are not directly mentioned [in the order] but it mentions the role of intelligence agencies,” the lawyer said. At that, the top judge remarked that the Faizabad sit-in verdict had upheld the fundamental right to protest.

Justice Isa then asked the lawyer to only provide details of the Baloch protesters who faced police action in Islamabad last month.

At one point, while Shaheen read out the court’s judgment on the abduction of journalist Matiullah Jan, the CJP asked why the lawyer was mentioning that case now. “Did the government at that time accept responsibility?” the judge inquired.

Shaheen replied that the then PTI government had intervened to expedite the recovery of the said journalist. However, the top judge intervened and said: “Don’t take credit. It was an egg on the face and I am surprised that not a single head rolled as a consequence.”

“When something has been established by video recording, an abduction taking place and presumably state agencies involved in the abduction, look the other way. No consequence. Then why govern? If you had taken a stance then, not a single missing person would have been picked up thereafter,” Justice Isa remarked, noting that Matiullah Jan’s case was “the only documented case”.

Shaheen argued that anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan was also abducted and footage of the same was available. He added that Riaz had called him to express that he was willing to come to court. The lawyer also referred to other political activists who were “picked up” but the court inquired why they did not say the same themselves.

“Please don’t start pleading cases of powerful people who are well-settled and have all the resources in the world and when they want they can come to court. And when they don’t want they don’t come to court. Don’t become their spokesperson,” the CJP lamented, adding that the PTI lawyer was making the case political.

Subsequently, the bench called Defence of Human Rights Chairperson Amina Masood Janjua to the rostrum. She said her husband was “forcefully disappeared” in 2005 during the tenure of Gen Pervez Musharraf and the then chief justice had taken a suo motu notice of it.

Upon being asked the reason for being picked up, Janjua said there was no reason in her mind. She added that her husband had been declared dead by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances and demanded that the SC takes up her case again.

“I just want to know the truth for myself, for my children that what happened [to my husband],” Janjua said. Upon being inquired who should be approached for these answers, she said the military and the army chief should be questioned.

Subsequently, the CJP directed the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan to present a report on the matter. “I don’t see why this government or those in charge of various institutions would want to assume responsibility if someone else earlier had done something illegal. There is every reason that if they have some information, they will tell you,” the judge remarked.

Justice Isa added that the concerned ministries in the matter would be the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence.

Continuing her arguments, Janjua said that the issue of enforced disappearances had been prevalent over the years. The CJP reiterated that a date-wise and name-wise list of missing persons should be presented in court to resolve the matter.

At one point, the top judge asked the AGP if he was prepared to make a statement on behalf of the federal government that no person would be picked up illegally without due process of law. “Absolutely,” Awan replied.

“We want it in writing. Who will give the statement?” Justice Isa asked, noting that the court wanted people on the highest level to give the statement. “We want this on behalf of the Government of Pakistan. This country is fractured from within and part of it is derailment of democracy and that is a major cause.

“In Balochistan, missing persons are a separate issue. In KP, it is slightly different […] there also is a very horrible other element: people are being killed for ethnicity, people are being killed for sectarian reasons,” the CJP remarked.

At one point, lawyer Faisal Siddiqui, who has been assisting the Islamabad High Court on the matter of enforced disappearances, said the SC had constituted a special bench in the past that oversaw the proceedings of the missing persons commission.

“The bench had to look at cases in which the production orders were not implemented,” he said, to which the CJP asked how could the commission issue production orders when it was unaware of the whereabouts of a person.

Siddiqui explained that the commission determined in the early stages of the cases pertained to enforced disappearances or not, lamenting that the government did not implement the orders of the commission. “Production orders have been issued in 700 cases but implementation has been done in only 51 cases,” he added.

For his part, the commission’s representative told the court that 46 missing persons had been recovered this month. When the court inquired if cases of enforced disappearances were being reported these days, he replied in the affirmative, adding that the commission formed a joint investigating team when it received cases.

Here, all the petitioners including Janjua and Ahsan, said they were dissatisfied with the commission.

After listening to all the parties, the CJP narrated the order of the day. He said the court would only hear the cases pertaining to people who were still missing, noting that those who had returned could approach the court themselves. He also appointed Faisal Siddiqui an amicus curiae of the court.

Talking about Baloch protesters’ sit-in in Islamabad and the police action against them, Justice Isa said: “We don’t want these sort of tactics employed by a responsible state. If someone wants to protest, let them protest to their heart’s content.”

He said people had a right to protest unless they were doing something violent. “Their right to protest must not be in any matter curtailed, let alone by force,” Justice Isa concluded.

The hearing was subsequently adjourned for two weeks.

IHC bars police from harassing Baloch sit-in

Separately, Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani barred capital’s police from dispersing Baloch protesters camped outside the National Press Club.

The judge issued the directives while hearing activist Sammi Deen Baloch’s petition on police action against Baloch protesters. Justice Kayani directed that the protesters not be harassed.

He also summoned the deputy commissioner and senior superintendent of police (operations) to appear in person at the next hearing on Friday.

The petition said the police had used “different tactics to sabotage” the sit-in by harassing the protesters and preventing necessary items such as food and warm clothing from reaching the camp.

It requested the high court to bar the police from such actions, direct the police to return items seized from the protesters and order the force to appoint a high-ranking police official and civil administration official to oversee camp security.

Shutterdown strike

Meanwhile, photos shared by the Balochistan Yakjehti Committee, one of the organisers of the Baloch long march against extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Islamabad, showed deserted streets as businesses remained closed in Gaddani, Noshki, Khuzdar, Turbat and other areas.

A day earlier, Baloch protesters — who have been camping in freezing cold outside the National Press Club in Islamabad — called for a shutterdown demonstration across the country after their seven-day ultimatum to the government expired.

Their demands included 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”.

Last night, the BYC said the state had failed to negotiate with the protesters and announced that a press conference would be held at 3pm today.

It also said that a large number of Islamabad police officials had arrived in front of their sit-in camp. “We are concerned that they’re going to crack down on us and arrest the peaceful protesters,” it stated.

Moreover, the protesters said police were not allowing them food, tents, sound systems and other facilities. “In this cold weather, old mothers and sisters are desperately facing harsh difficulties. Anything can happen to their health,” they added.

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