Pakistani authorities have again placed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto under house arrest. The seven-day detention order is the second house arrest for Ms. Bhutto in recent days. Earlier this month, she was prevented by the authorities from attending a rally of her opposition Pakistan Peoples Party in Rawalpindi. The rally was intended to protest President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule, but Pakistani security forces stopped it before it began. Some five-thousand Pakistan Peoples Party demonstrators were reportedly arrested. The latest house arrest was imposed to prevent her from participating in a planned protest march from Lahore to Islamabad, a march authorities say is banned.
Pakistani authorities continue to censor the news media. Most private television stations and many radio stations have been closed.
Gordon Johndroe is a spokesman for President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. He says the U.S. remains “concerned about the continued state of emergency and curtailment of basic freedoms” in Pakistan:
“We want an early end to the state of emergency. We want them to get back on the path to democracy, which means having free and fair elections.”
Mr. Johndroe said “former prime minister Bhutto and other political party members must be permitted freedom of movement and all protesters released.”
Opposition political party activists are not the only ones being detained. There is particular concern over the arrest of lawyers leading the movement for judicial independence that began in March. According to Human Rights Watch, among those being detained are Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association; his predecessor Munir Malik; retired Supreme Court Justice Tariq Mehmood; and lawyer Ali Ahmed Kurd.
Another prominent lawyer is Asma Jehangir, founder of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Ms. Jehangir is being kept under house arrest. U.S. Consul General in Lahore Bryan Hunt visited Ms. Jehangir and urged President Musharraf to step down as chief of staff of Pakistan’s army and begin his promised transition to civilian democratic rule.
President Musharraf has promised that parliamentary elections will be held By January 9th. U.S. Consul General in Lahore Bryan Hunt said, “for elections to be credible, opposition political party leaders and their party workers must be released from jail or house arrest. The media must be free to report on events and share their opinions with the public.”