3 Mar 2008

Pakistan's human rights hero

The torture of Sindhi human rights activist Dr Safdar Sarki is
emblematic of President Musharraf's tyranny

By Peter Tatchell

The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 3 March 2008


As he continues to cling to power, Pervez Musharraf presides over a
regime in Pakistan that routinely engages in kidnapping, detention
without trial, torture and extra-judicial killings, according to the
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Symptomatic of Musharraf's lawless, abusive regime is the illegal
detention and torture of Sindhi human rights activist Dr Safdar Sarki.

His persecution has been widely documented by the international media
and human rights groups.

Dr Sarki is currently being held in Zhob prison in a remote region of
occupied Baluchistan, far from his place of origin, Sindh province.

The Pakistani police, military and intelligence agencies have refused
to release him, despite court orders granting him bail and despite
appeals from human rights organisations and civic dignitaries in
Pakistan and worldwide – including Amnesty International.

Due to prolonged torture and the denial of medical treatment, Dr
Sarki's health is seriously deteriorating. His access to his lawyers,
family and friends is severely restricted. There are growing fears
that he might soon die from the sustained abuse that he has suffered
in prison.

A former Chairman of the World Sindhi Congress (WSC), Dr Sarki is the
embodiment of democracy, peace and secularism, and has been honoured
with humanitarian awards.

His opposition to fundamentalism and terrorism, and to President
Musharraf's collusion with political and religious extremists, has
earned him the wrath of the dictator's agents.

WSC campaigns for the political, economic and cultural rights of the
people of the Sindh province of Pakistan, who have long suffered
victimisation and discrimination at the hands of the Punjabi-dominated
Pakistani state.

Persecuted because of his Sindhi human rights activism, Dr Sarki was
forced to flee Pakistan and seek exile in the US, where he eventually
secured US citizenship.

In 2006, when Dr Sarki was on a return visit to his ancestral home in
Karachi, in Sindh province, he was seized by Pakistani police and
security agents. Witnesses say he was severely beaten, and his
luggage, along with US passport and laptop, was confiscated. He was
taken to unknown destination. For 18 months he disappeared. No one
knew his whereabouts.

On many occasions the Pakistan Government has engaged in arbitrary
arrests, torture and extra-judicial killing of pro-democracy activists
in Sindh and other provinces, such as Baluchistan and North West
Frontier. According to the US State Department's damning Country
Reports on Human Rights Practices, released by the Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights and Labour on March 8, 2006: "Pakistan's human
rights record continued to be poor. Major problems included
restrictions on citizens' right to change their government,
extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape. The country experienced an
increase in disappearances of provincial activists and political
opponents....The government (has) limited freedoms of association,
religion, and movement, and imprisoned political leaders."

Late last year, shortly before Musharraf dismissed the senior judges,
the Pakistan Supreme Court decreed that Dr. Sarki was a victim of
forced disappearance by the government. It demanded that the Attorney
General produce him in court. Then, and only then, did the Pakistani
authorities reluctantly acknowledge that they were holding him and
reveal his whereabouts. He was finally bought to court in Baluchistan
in October 2007.

The Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of Health of Baluchistan to
ensure Dr Sarki's hospitalisation and proper medical treatment, and
that he should be allowed to meet his family members.

Six months later, these court orders have still not been fully
implemented. Dr Sarki has not received the medical treatment he needs.
He has not been admitted to hospital, and his family has very
restricted access to him.

On 2 November 2007, the judges granted bail to Dr Sarki and ordered
his immediate release.

Within two hours, the bail and release orders were cancelled, the
judge who made the orders was removed from the case and a pliant
replacement judge appointed.

A month ago Dr Sarki's lawyers persuaded another judge to grant him
bail. But that court order has also been thwarted by Musharraf's men.
The jail authorities have privately conceded that they are under
government pressure to keep Dr Sarki in detention.

In the meantime, Dr Sarki's medical condition is worsening. According
to his lawyer, he can no longer stand on his legs. His eyesight is

Dr Sarki is one of thousands of political prisoners in Pakistan, many
being held without charge or without trial. During last year's
crackdown by President Musharraf, an estimated 10,000 political, human
rights and trade union activists were arrested. In annexed and
militarily-occupied Baluchistan, there are thought to be around 4,000
political detainees.

Despite the defeat of Musharaff's candidates in last month's
parliamentary poll, the sacked judges have not been reinstated and the
rule of law has not been restored. These are the preconditions for
ending human rights abuses and freeing political prisoners like Dr

As of the moment, there is no indication that the British and US
governments, which have long backed Musharraf's dictatorship, are
doing anything serious to press for the release of Dr Sarki and other
prisoners of conscience. Yet again, our government, in our name, is
siding with tyranny and ignoring its victims.

* For more information about the World Sindhi Congress (WSC) see:

Peter Tatchell is the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East
www.greenoxford.com/peter and www.petertatchell.net

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