Political and social activists have won a reprieve from the Gilgit-Baltistan High Court which has suspended the operation of a section of the draconian anti-terrorism law in the disputed.
A two-judge bench comprised of Justice Wazir Shakeel and Justice Ali Beg, on Thursday suspended the operation of Section-11(EEEE) or popularly known as Schedule-4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The bench issued notices to Federal Government through the Deputy Attorney-General and Advocate General of GB to appear in court on Monday (Sept 17) and submit their replies on four identical petitions, filed by the High Court Bar Association (GBHCA), three political activists – Inayatur Rehman, Mir Nawaz and Advocate Baqir — through their counsel Ehsan Ali in July.
The bench held that final verdict will be given on the petitions after hearing arguments from the respondents.
“The enforcement of Section-11(EEEE) of ATA in GB by the provincial authorities is illegal and violation of fundamental rights,” argued Advocate Ali, who is the former President of Supreme Appellate Court Bar Association (SACBA).
He argued that after the amendment to the ATA in 2014, the federal government had taken the powers from provincial governments to put a suspect’s name on watch list under the 4th Schedule.
The law was amended to prevent terrorism, sectarian violence and for speedy trial of heinous offences as well as keep a check on extremist elements affiliated with any proscribed, sectarian or religious groups.
However, in Gilgit-Baltistan, the ATA has been used by the local authorities as a tool to intimidate progressive and nationalist
political workers and social media activists.
Baba Jan and 18 others were convicted under the ATA for raising voice against police brutality and for the political and social rights of the people of GB.
“It’s irony of the fact that terrorists and religious extremists are roaming freely burning schools, attacking police personnel while those political activists who are raising their voice for people’s fundamental rights are intimidated and put on Schedule-4 of the ATA,” Advocate Ehsan said. The regional authorities had placed names of dozens of political workers, social media activists and rights defenders on watch list under Schedule-11(EEEE) of the ATA. Under the draconian law, the suspects are not allowed to move out of their hometowns without the permission of the relevant police station. Their accounts are frozen, and their mobility is restricted.
Who is Baba Jan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCCk2sxkTDY
In 2016, over 100 activists including Engineer Manzoor Parwana of Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement (GBUM), Poet Sher Nadir Shahi of Balwaristan National Front (BNF-H), Syed Qasim Ali Shah, Yawar Ali (BNF-Naji), and Usman, a former Assistant Commissioner were placed on the watch list.
On June 21, the local authorities removed 47 names but added more activists including progressive activists Inayatur Rehman, Noor Akbar, Advocate Asif Naji, Shabbir Mayar and religious scholar Agha Ali Rizvi, who were very vocal against the imposition of taxes, issuance of mining leases to non-locals and the GB Order 2018.
The authorities in Baltistan division last week arrested Asif Naji and Shabbir Mayar and brought them to Gilgit for obtaining a remand for JIT interrogation. However, the lawyers and political parties reacted strongly and held protests and filed a petition in the ATA against the police action. The ATC ordered the police to unshackle and free the two activists who have been very vocal against misdeeds and highhandedness of the bureaucracy.
Government officials claim that the people included in the watch list are involved in ‘anti-state’ activities, who can be arrested if they don’t stop their ‘anti-state’ activities.
Political leaders and rights defenders criticized the GB government for using the ATA as a tool to suppress dissent voices.
They were of the opinion that elements affiliated with banned sectarian outfits and wanted to police for killings are being removed from the list, while those activists who are demanding political and economic rights are being targeted.
Many national and international rights bodies have expressed concern over the violation of fundamental rights and intimidation of activists.
The United Nation’s Human Rights Commissioner in its report on 14th of June expressed concern over the imprisonment or house arrest of political activists, journalists, and other civil society actors. They have been convicted for peacefully expressing their opinions.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have been voicing concerns over the fundamental democratic and other rights and documented the situation in GB in its various fact-finding reports. The commission, however, lauded the GB authorities’ decision to remove 47 names from the 4th schedule. The commission, however, demanded the authorities to remove the remaining names and stop their intimidation.