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Lawyer who called Pakistan army ‘terrorists’ bailed

Story by By Farhat Javed – BBC Urdu •18h

Lawyer who called Pakistan army 'terrorists' bailed

Lawyer who called Pakistan army ‘terrorists’ bailed© Getty Images

A prominent Pakistani human rights lawyer who was arrested on terror charges has been granted bail.

Imaan Mazari-Hazir was arrested by plain-clothed officers who entered her home at about 0330 local time on Sunday 20 August after she made a speech criticising the powerful military.

Her arrest has been widely criticised.

Analysts say a crackdown has increased after military installations were attacked in May by crowds protesting at the arrest of former PM Imran Khan.

“There has been a gross over-reaction to the events of 9 May. But the establishment doesn’t want to be seen as only focused against Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf [PTI] party. So, now they are targeting different segments of the society,” prominent journalist Cyril Almeida told the BBC.

Videos widely shared on social media show Ms Mazari-Hazir’s speech at a rally organised by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) rights group in Islamabad, where she strongly criticises the military for alleged abductions, a charge the army has always denied.

“You are being stopped, as if you are terrorists while the real terrorists are sitting in GHQ [Pakistan’s military headquarters],” she said.

‘An abduction not an arrest’

Moments before she was arrested in the capital, Ms Mazari-Hazir posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) that “unknown persons” were breaking down the security cameras in her home and that the gate to her house was “jumped over”.

Ms Mazari-Hazir’s mother, Shireen Mazari, alleged that security officials disregarded arrest warrants and legal procedures.

Ms Mazari, who served as the country’s human rights minister under Imran Khan, posted on X that the police had barged in, ransacked her daughter’s room, confiscated her phone and laptop, and forcibly took her away.

“They did not even let her change out of her night clothes,” she told the BBC the next day.

Ali Wazir, co-founder of the PTM rights group and a former lawmaker, was also detained by police in Islamabad.

The two were later presented in an anti-terrorism court on charges of sedition and terrorism. Police have also accused them of propagating anti-state messages.

Ms Mazari-Hazir was sent to judicial remand.

Just before her transfer to prison, she rushed to her mother and gave her a long hug. Shireen, visibly distressed, appeared poised on the verge of tears.

‘Laws to stifle dissent’

Murtaza Solangi, the federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, told the BBC that Ms Mazari-Hazir’s speech was a “condemnable act”.

“I can’t even imagine the result of such speeches. Pakistan is a nuclear state. How can someone say that the commander or chief of the army, sitting in the Headquarters is involved in terrorism?”

But many observers perceive these arrests as part of a larger effort to suppress voices critical of the military.

Human Rights Watch, in a statement last Thursday, labelled the arrests as an attempt to “suppress dissent, emphasizing the importance of upholding due process”.

“In arresting Imaan Mazari and others, Pakistani authorities are using vague, overboard anti-terrorism laws to stifle dissent. The government should uphold the right to due process,” the statement added.

Social media users also reacted strongly.

Imran Khan's arrest in May sparked a wave of protests around Pakistan

Imran Khan’s arrest in May sparked a wave of protests around Pakistan© Getty Images

Nida Kirmani, a sociology professor and human rights activist, was among those who spoke out against the “harsh” arrests.

She asserted that both Ms Mazari-Hazir and Mr Wazir were “unfairly targeted for exercising their freedom of speech”.

Mr Almeida says the situation in Pakistan now is “just as bad as some of the worst times”.

Like many others, he thinks that tactics used to supress dissent in areas like Balochistan province and formerly federally administered tribal regions are now being applied “more centrally”.

The increasing crackdowns coincide with a period in which Pakistan is being governed by a caretaker government widely perceived to have strong affiliations with the military establishment.

The last two years in Pakistan have been full of great political turmoil, economic instability and rising security concerns.

Amidst all these crises, people were looking forward for a new election to bring some stability.

But the polls, which were due to take place this autumn, have now been postponed indefinitely, leaving many concerned about Pakistan’s democratic future.

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