U.S. criticizes politically motivated arrests in Pakistan
By SALMAN MASOOD: New York Times, September 24, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 24 — The American Embassy here expressed serious concerns today over the arrest and detention by the Pakistani government of more than three dozen opposition politicians who had planned to stage protest rallies against the re-election of the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
“The reports of arrests of the leadership of several major Pakistani political parties are extremely disturbing and confusing for the friends of Pakistan,” the embassy said in a statement released to the news media. “We wish to express our serious concern about these developments. These detainees should be released as soon as possible.”
The comments from the embassy were unusual for their criticism of the government, and so of General Musharraf.
All those arrested or placed under house arrest belong to an opposition alliance, All Parties Democratic Movement, that opposes General Musharraf’s election as president while he continues to hold the position of chief of army staff.
General Musharraf is seeking another five-year term and has said he will submit his nomination papers on Thursday and stand in the elections by the national and provincial assemblies on Oct. 6.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing three petitions challenging the eligibility of General Musharraf to contest the elections, and a verdict is expected on Wednesday. The court dismissed three other such petitions on Monday. Opposition politicians had vowed to besiege the court and the Election Commission with protesters this week.
Police moved over the weekend to detain several political leaders from the religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and the party of the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the capital, using a public maintenance order that allows them to detain for 30 days anyone threatening public order.
Riot police officers and military Rangers were deployed today around the white-marbled Supreme Court building, barricading all the roads leading to it with barbed wire. The city administration also imposed a ban on gatherings of more than five people.
Around two dozen opposition political workers scuffled unsuccessfully with the police as they tried to pass through to the court and were arrested. At the doorstep of the court, one opposition lawyer sprayed black paint in the face of a government lawyer.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz defended the opposition arrests as “preventive action” while speaking at a news briefing at his residence above the capital.
“If somebody says they will lay a siege; if they say they will surround the Election Commission; if they say they will stop the legal and constitutional process, then the government has to take some preventive action,” Mr. Aziz said.
He added that this action was allowed under the law and put the number of those arrested as between 40 to 42. He said most of them were under detention in their houses.