HRCP’s annual report marks 2023 as a year of economic hardships

ISLAMABAD May 8, 2024 : The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, released its annual report, ‘State of Human Rights in 2023’, and called for economic justice and protection of civil rights.

The year 2023, HRCP reports, would be remembered as a year of economic hardship. People faced staggering inflation, low growth and limited access to education, healthcare, social security and employment opportunities – and “the state’s response to these protests was indifferent at best and unabashedly violent at worst”.

The report notes that irreparable political divisions spilled over into public acts of arson and violence on May 9, 2023, following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan – “What followed was flagrant disregard for the constitution as unelected forces tightened their grip on the country’s democratic structures and civic spaces shrank to an all-time low”.

The HRCP report observes that in response to the May 9 riots, the state retaliated with a fierce crackdown, resulting in mass arrests of thousands of party workers and leaders, including numerous women. This further polarised the country on political grounds.

The state reaction to the May 9 incident, it adds, the right to freedom of expression and assembly took a particular hit during the year. This led to civilian trials in military courts, enforced disappearances, mass arrests, and allegations of orchestrating public disassociation from the PTI among numerous senior party leaders.

As a consequence of the May 9 riots, the general elections were delayed significantly beyond the 90-day constitutional limit, citing various reasons, including the necessity for new delimitations based on the recent census, the report says.

The report documents cases of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture by state agencies. It also reports an increase in mob lynching, “about 34 people became victims of mob lynching in at least 26 incidents”.

Freedom of expression endured increased restrictions in 2023. These included internet and social media shutdowns, prohibition of televised PTI broadcasts, Pemra’s directives against ‘hate speech’, effectively banning any mention of Imran Khan on air. The rights organisation report mentions the case of television anchor and YouTuber Imran Riaz Khan. His whereabouts remained unknown for four months despite court orders.

On the front the freedom of assembly, the situation remained particularly poor. There were attempts to stop various marches, including Aurat March and Baloch women protest march led by Mahrang Baloch. Section 144 was generously used to pre-empt peaceful assemblies and protests.

The HRCP finds the caretaker government’s decision to expel the Afghan nationals and takes strong exception to the order, which it felt could “trigger a humanitarian crisis”.

It highlights attacks on religious minorities, especially in the aftermath of an attack in Jaranwala, Punjab, in which scores of churches and homes were torched and looted by mobs, following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man.

Speaking at the launch of the report, HRCP secretary-general Harris Khalique said that the 2023 economic crisis had “pushed tens of millions of ordinary citizens to the brink of desperation.”

He added, the role and performance of the Commission of Inquiry of Enforced Disappearances as “disgraceful”.

HRCP chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt said that it was critical for the state to fulfil people’s right to education, livelihood and health – “Attempts to unionise workers were routinely met with harassment and intimidation”.

Co-chair Munizae Jahangir said the repressive laws passed during one governments tenure could resurface to haunt them when in opposition.



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