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Imaan Mazari-Hazir: Lawyer who called Pakistan army ‘terrorists’ re-arrested

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Police officials present arrested lawyer and human rights activist Imaan Mazari-Hazir (C) before a court in Islamabad on August 20, 2023.IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES

A prominent Pakistani human rights lawyer who criticised the powerful military has been re-arrested hours after a court granted her bail.

Imaan Mazari-Hazir was due for release on Monday night until she was detained on a second terrorism charge.

She was placed in custody a week ago, prompting widespread criticism.

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.

The basis for the second charge against Ms Mazari-Hazir was not immediately clear. Video footage shows her being arrested outside Adiala jail in Islamabad, where she has been held on judicial remand.

Her lawyer, Zainab Januja, said police had provided neither a copy of the charges against her nor an arrest warrant.

“They only informed us that there is another case against her at a different police station,” she told the BBC. “The police will present her in court within 24 hours to get remand. We do not know why and in which case she has been arrested now.”

A number of PTI members have also been re-arrested after posting bail in recent weeks.

Ms Mazari-Hazir was detained two days after a rally organised by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) rights group in Islamabad on 18 August. Videos widely shared on social media show her making a speech in which 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 told the rally.

A Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activist and supporter of former Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran throws back a tear gas shell towards police during a protest against the arrest of their leader, in Quetta on May 9, 2023.IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,

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

Moments before she was first taken into custody, 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”.

Her 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 accused them of propagating anti-state messages.

Just before her transfer to prison, Ms Mazari-Hazir rushed to her visibly distressed mother and gave her a long hug.

‘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.

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

She said both Ms Mazari-Hazir and Mr Wazir had been “unfairly targeted for exercising their freedom of speech”.

“Sadly, I am not shocked,” she told the BBC, referring to Ms Mazar’s re-arrest just after being granted bail.

“The security state is hyper-paranoid and insecure at the moment, which is increasing their capacity for human rights abuses as well. The tolerance for dissent was already low, but at the moment, it is non-existent.”

Imran KhanIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS
Image caption,

Mr Khan is challenging his arrest on corruption charges

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 to a new election to bring some stability.

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

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