Whither justice for Akhtar Mengal?
The News, October 31, 2007
Akhtar Mengal, the son of a prominent Baloch politician, a former chief minister and the head of a moderate Baloch nationalist party, has been detained for the last eight months and is being denied justice through several delaying tactics. Illegal detention and unnecessary delays in his case have exposed the inequality and courts' inability to act without being influenced by the executive. Mengal has been arrested on charges of neither corruption, nor misuse of power. He is not an industrialist, bank defaulter and isn't involved in any land scam, like many pro-establishment politicians of the country.
Akhtar Mengal has been detained and kept in an isolated cell in a prison in Karachi since December 2006. He is facing trial for a two-hour "abduction" of two undercover agents of the security agencies. His case is being heard by an anti-terrorist court. Article 25 of the Constitution says: "All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law…" According to Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: "States parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights: (a) The right to equal treatment before the tribunals and all other organs administering justice…"
However, in the last five years the Baloch have not been treated according to national and international laws. Neither constitutional guarantees nor any court of law has protected their fundamental rights. Akhtar Mengal is not being tried in an open court and on the wishes of the executive he is produced in the court in a humiliating manner. Iqbal Haider, secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, witnessed the first hearing of his trial in the Karachi prison and said afterwards that Mr Mengal was brought to the courtroom and placed in an iron cage and kept away from his lawyer.
Mr Mengal and 500 other Balochistan National Party activists were arrested in November 2006 before President Musharraf's visit to Balochistan to prevent the BNP from holding a peaceful long march against the military operation, illegal arrests and forced disappearances. The BNP is a moderate political party, registered with the Election Commission and believes in a non-violent struggle for the rights of Balochistan. The party seeks political, economic and social rights for the people of the province and autonomy and control of the province's natural resources and development projects (including Gwadar port). The BNP opposes the unprecedented troop deployment and establishment of checkposts in the eastern, southern and western districts of Balochistan to exploit province's wealth and the suppression of progressive Baloch nationalists.
Mengal's family started receiving threatening phone calls as the military operation began in the province. On April 2, 2006, the Balochistan National Party held a successful rally of around 100,000 people against the military operation, forced disappearances, the establishment of military cantonments, the Gwadar port project and the exploitation of natural resources of Balochistan by the central government. According to Mr Mengal, on April 5 undercover agents of the security agencies tried to abduct his children of school-going age. He stopped his car and asked them for their identification and asked them why they were following him. They refused to give any satisfactory answer and in view of security concerns, Mr Mengal's security guards picked up the two interceptors and took them back to his residence with the intention of handing them over to the police. There, the two persons admitted that they were army personnel and almost immediately, a large number of law-enforcement agencies' personnel arrived for the release of their two comrades – which eventually happened but not after Mr Mengal's residence was besieged.
On the intervention of the Sindh chief minister, it was agreed that no case would be filed in this regard after giving servants of Mr Mengal (who 'abducted' the undercover agents for two hours) in police custody for investigation.
At some later stage, it was found that a havaldar of the Pakistan army, Qurban Hussain, filed an FIR on April 5, 2006, against Akhtar Mengal and his four servant-guards. On the other hand, when Mengal's relatives attempted to register an FIR against the law-enforcement agencies, their attempt was refused by the police. A constitutional petition (D-1917/06) was filed on Mr Mengal's behalf before the Sindh High Court requesting that an FIR should be accepted and registered. On October 13, the court restrained an anti-terrorism court hearing the case of the guards from pronouncing judgment against the four accused. Despite the fact that the restraining order was still in force, Mr Mengal's guards -- who were named in the FIR and were under arrest -- were convicted on December 9, 2006, by the court and sentenced to several years in prison and also fined Rs140,000 each.
Akhtar Mengal remained free till November 28, 2006, when the Balochistan police arrested him, along with senior members of his party and taken to Lasi farm house in Hub town, which was later declared a sub-jail. He was kept there till December 26 when his arrest was made public. He was produced before the same anti-terrorist court (which was hearing the case of his four guards) and his 14 companions were then transferred to an undisclosed location. The whereabouts of the latter currently remain unknown. Mr Mengal's father, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, has expressed the fear that the government and security agencies might kill his son. Also, it has come to light that even basic medical facilities are have been denied to him during his detention in prison.
Mr Mengal's lawyer has moved three applications; the first one seeks the provision of medical facilities, the second one demands 'B' class accommodation for his client in prison and the third one requests release on bail. The hearing of all these applications has been deferred. In one instance, the reason given for the deferment of the application for 'B' class accommodation in jail was the absence of an income tax certificate. On January 10, an income tax certificate was produced before the presiding officer but no order was passed. On the same day, senior advocate Azizullah Sheikh arrived at the Karachi Central Prison to have some papers signed by his client but he was not allowed to meet Mr Mengal. Iqbal Haider of the HRCP was also, on the same day, stopped from meeting him.
On January 19, 2007, the judge of the ATC disallowed the HRCP from observing the proceedings of the case. All proceedings of the trial are being conducted in-camera to intimidate Mengal and all other progressive Baloch politicians and prevent them from demanding socio-economic and political rights for the people of Balochistan. The HRCP secretary general has rightly said: There is no justification for holding trial inside the prison in camera and denying the presence of HRCP observers and family members of the accused at the hearing.
Repeated humiliation of the Baloch and their leaders will increase the animosity among Pakistanis. The tilted role of the judiciary and unproductive hearings of the ATC have already shattered the credibility of the bench. Rulers in Pakistan must abide by the domestic and international covenants, respect the rights of national minorities and stop intimidating and dishonouring the Baloch and their political representatives. There should be open and fair trial, which is also in the interest of the government.
The Baloch should not be discriminated against. They are part of the federation and have equal rights according to the Constitution. US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr in a letter from jail on April 16, 1963, wrote that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere. He was right. Misuse of power and use of force against a distressed people will give birth to hate and resentment and widen the gap between the provinces and the central government.
The writer is a member of the Senate of Pakistan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org