Sunday, 11 November 2007
By Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- After reports emerged of a bloody crackdown on Christians and other activists, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf pledged Sunday, November 11, that he would organize elections before January 9, next year.
Speaking at his first news conference since declaring a state of emegency on November 3, Musharraf said he had ordered the Election Commission with preparing for the vote for national and regional assemblies, and added it was up to them to determine the exact date.
His announcement came followed Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto involvement in protests in Islamabad against emergency rule on Saturday, November 10, a day after nearly 70 activists, including Christians of one of Pakistanâ€™s largest advocacy groups, were reportedly detained by baton-wielding security forces, BosNewsLife established.
Many detained activists of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) and Bhuttoâ€™s Pakistan Peopleâ€™s Party (PPP) also suffered "severe" police torture to prevent them from protesting against the state of emergency imposed by General Pervez Musharraf, the president, investigators told BosNewsLife.
"PPP and APMA were to stage a protest rally at Liaqat Baagh [the center location of] Rawalpindi on Friday, November 9, against the promulgation of [the state of] emergency, suspension of basic human rights and banning the media," APMA Chairman Shahbaz Bhatti told BosNewsLife. Instead, Bhatti said, he "was looking after APMA workers arrested by the authorities on November 9 when they joined the procession to condemn emergency rule."
Most of them were detained in Pakistanâ€™s Punjab province where security forces sealed off Islamabad, the capital, and nearby Rawalpindi. APMAâ€™s regional director and politician Saleem Khursheed Khokhar told BosNewsLife that more than 68 APMA activists had been detained "from different parts of Punjab while they were trying to reach Liaqat Baagh." He added that police took APMA workers "heavy handed and wielded batons" in "a barbarian way" at the two nearby locations.
APMA DIRECTOR DETAINED
Among those detained is APMA Punjab Director Khalid Gill, BosNewsLife learned. "He is missing and we are totally unable to contact or locate him," said APMA official Tahir Naveed Chaudhary.
Despite the apparent difficulties to protest, former Prime Minister Bhutto managed to drive around Islamabad Saturday, November 10, to meet party officials and demonstrators, after police relaxed the security cordon around her residence where she had been put under a brief house arrest.
In the parking lot of a private television station, where hundreds of journalists chanted and wore black armbands signifying the death of the independent press. Bhutto said she and her party stand for a free news media. In a related development, the International Federation of Journalists told BosNewsLfe Saturday, November 10, that it also remains concerned about a crackdown on media, including the expulsion of three journalists working for a British daily newspaper in Pakistan accusing the government of President Pervez Musharraf of "intolerance and destroying international confidence in promises of a quick return to the rule of law and democracy."
The government is expelling Daily Telepgraph journalists Isambard Wilkinson, Colin Freeman and Damien McElroy under emergency regulations for using "foul and abusive language against Pakistan and the Pakistani leadership", State-run Pakistan Television said. The action follows a newspaper editorial yesterday criticising the declaration of emergency rule.
"The Pakistan People's Party and I are with them [the independent media] in their struggle for freedom," added Bhutto in Islamabad. Shahbaz Bhatti suggested that APMA would help her in the struggle for human rights, restoration of the constitution and democracy in Pakistan.
MORE VIOLENCE FEARED
Christians, already on edge, are closely monitoring the crisis amid fears of more violence and Islamic extremism in different areas of the country. Several Christian officials of APMA and other organizations have said the president has not done enough to stop attacks against Christians and churches. They also remain concerned about controversial blasphemy laws and seem to hope that under Bhutto life will become better for religious minorities in this mainly Muslim nation.
Activists plan to march 300 kilometers (188 miles) from Pakistanâ€™s second largest Lahore to Islamabad to show that "all people of Pakistan want to get rid of Musharrafâ€™s regime," according to a statement obtained by BosNewsLife. APMA Chairman Bhatti told BosNewsLife he had urged world leaders â€œto come forward to help us restore the constitution and democracy in Pakistan" at a time when critics claim parliament has become a "rubber stamp" of the president.
Musharraf has defended the measures, saying it was the only way to restore order and step up the fight against militants. He reportedly said Saturday, November 10, that rising extremism and suicide attacks in the country would not be tolerated and down with a firm hand, a day after a bomber blew himself up inside a federal minister's house killing four in Peshawar.
Musharraf made this assertion while chairing a crucial meeting of the corps commanders of the Pakistan Army at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, local media said. However he told diplomats earlier this week: "I am determined to remove my uniform once we correct these pillars - the judiciary, the executive, and the parliament."
The United States and other Western allies have been putting pressure on the president to confirm his commitment to national and local assembly elections planned for January. (Read more from Jawad Mazhar via the Rays of Development Organization. www.raysofdevelopment.org).
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