HRW urges govt to uphold rights while prosecuting Imran Khan’s protest violence

HRW Imran Khan

As the crackdown on the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) continues in the wake of the May 9 violent protests, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Pakistani authorities to end their “arbitrary arrests of political opposition activists and peaceful protesters” and to display restraint and respect for human rights and rule of law.

Patricia Gossman, Associate Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said on Saturday that Pakistani police had carried out mass arrests and detained more than 4,000 people in the wake of protests over the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, including members of the political opposition.

“The Pakistani authorities should end their arbitrary arrests of political opposition activists and peaceful protesters,” she said.

Gossman, however, added anyone committing violence should be “appropriately charged” and their due process rights respected.

Violent protests swept across Pakistan after the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested Imran Khan with the help of Rangers on May 9.

Many of Khan’s supporters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails, and in a few cases, used assault rifles to attack police, and set fire to ambulances, police vehicles, and schools.

Police responded with tear gas, and rubber bullets, and charged protesters with batons.

In the ensuing days, police arrested hundreds of members of Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), on charges of criminal intimidation, rioting, and assault on government officials.

A tense standoff continued between the police and Khan supporters in Lahore, raising concerns about further violence.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that security forces must use the minimum necessary force at all times.

In dispersing violent assemblies, firearms may only be used when using less harmful means are not practicable, and only to the minimum extent necessary. Law enforcement officers may only intentionally resort to lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

“The authorities should display restraint and respect for human rights and the rule of law,” Gossman said. “Fundamental guarantees of peaceful protest and due process should not become casualties of Pakistan’s political conflict.”