Pakistan's January polls already rigged: UN rights envoy

Pakistan's January polls already rigged: UN rights envoy
AFP - December 15, 2007

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A UN human rights envoy on Thursday told US lawmakers not to send any delegation to monitor the upcoming election in Pakistan, claiming that it was already rigged by President Pervez Musharraf.

"There is no point in monitoring the elections or watching the poll -- the rigging has already happened," said Hina Jilani, a prominent Pakistani attorney who is also the UN special envoy for human rights defenders.

She made the remarks after lawmakers at a Congressional hearing on the political crisis in Pakistan sought her opinion on the prospect of monitoring the January 8 polls to elect a new parliament.

Jilani, co-founder of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan, charged that Musharraf, who was expected to lift a five-week-old state of emergency on Saturday, had already destroyed institutions such as the judiciary and the press.

Fearing that the Supreme Court would disqualify him from running for re-election, Musharraf sacked and detained independent-minded judges and lawyers leaders who refused to accept his imposition of emergency rule.

"Freedom of assembly is totally curtailed, freedom of expression is curtailed," Jilani said.

"Under these conditions, the election that is going to take place on January 8 has very little credibility. Under Pakistan's constitution and the law, the judiciary oversees the elections.

"A judiciary that lacks the confidence of the people and has no credibility, how do you think the elections are going to be credible?" Jilani asked the lawmakers.

Earlier, Democratic lawmakers Sheila Jackson Lee and Jim Moran told Jilani they were considering the possibility of going to Pakistan as part of a Congressional delegation to monitor the election process.

Moran said there were however doubts among lawmakers when to go to Pakistan.

One Congressman felt that "if they were to do it in the first two weeks of January, it will show an implicit support for President Musharraf and, in effect, the process of confirming his election."

There were also doubts that if the delegation went after the election, the government would be "using us to show American support -- bipartisan support -- which may not be appropriate," Moran said.

"What should we be doing?" he asked Jilani.

She replied: "The world outside can help by analyzing and making itself more aware of the situation in Pakistan and getting the facts correct because only correct facts will allow people to understand the solution."

Jilani said the civil society in Pakistan was becoming a critical watchdog striving to bring about a stable political process.

"All we ask the international community to do is to support us and further our objectives rather than stand in our way," she said.

Citing Islamist violence and what he said was an interfering judiciary, Musharraf imposed emergency rule on November 3. The constitution was suspended, and thousands of people were arrested across the country.

The head of the Supreme Court was one of many judges given the sack. A new and strict code of conduct effectively barred many media from criticizing Musharraf or the armed forces.

Most of those arrested have since been released but some prominent lawyers -- including the president of the Supreme Court's bar association -- are still in detention.

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