As scholars and academics, we are alarmed by recent events in Pakistan. We condemn the state-sanctioned violence, murder and torture of protestors, use of sexual violence against women and men, curbs on media, bans on freedom of assembly and speech, and arbitrary arrests of thousands of political leaders and workers belonging to the main opposition party.
Following the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s elected government in April 2022, the ruling establishment has unleashed a reign of terror in a desperate bid to hold on to power, and deny the people of Pakistan a say in their future. The current government—backed, kept in power, and operated by the military establishment—is refusing to hold elections as mandated by the Constitution and ordered by the Supreme Court. The regime enjoys no popular mandate to rule and is depriving people of their right to vote, while seeking to eliminate the largest opposition party from the political arena.
Meanwhile, the people of Pakistan are facing an unprecedented onslaught on their civil liberties. Most recently, in flagrant violation of international human rights conventions, the military has announced its intention to establish military courts for trying civilians who protest and register their political dissent in the public domain, bypassing due process of law. The government has also attacked the judiciary, and court orders to release political leaders arrested under fabricated charges have been ignored. This is all occurring at a time when people are facing dire living conditions: over the last year, unemployment has spiraled, the currency has lost 55% of its value, and inflation has tripled.
We, the undersigned concerned scholars, write this open letter to express our solidarity with the people of Pakistan, and denounce attempts to impose a brutal and violent tyranny upon the country. The suspension of the rule of law, the use of state terror against the population, and the collapse of constitutional order is only deepening the political, economic, and social crisis in Pakistan.
Therefore we call upon the ruling establishment to:
- Restore civil rights: It is vital to restore and uphold the fundamental rights and liberties of the people of Pakistan. This includes protecting freedom of expression, assembly, and association, as well as ensuring the right to a fair trial and due process for all individuals. We further contend that audiences within and outside Pakistan have a right to access accurate information about newsworthy events, and demand immediate cessation of state interference with, and curbs on, press freedom.
- Release all political prisoners: We urge the regime to immediately release all political prisoners who have been detained without just cause or due process. The continued incarceration of individuals including journalists, lawyers, doctors, academics, and other civilians for exercising their constitutional rights violates international law and principles of justice.
- Cease efforts to use military courts for civilians: Trial of civilians under military courts represents a gross violation of the Constitution and contravenes international law. Legal proceedings must be pursued under the existing judicial system, which must be allowed to function without coercion.
- Investigate and prosecute officials who have violated and abused citizens: We demand independent and impartial investigations be carried out to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations. These include murder, torture, and use of sexual violence against political activists, journalists, and innocent civilians. The perpetrators must be brought to justice and victims provided reparations.
- Respect the democratic process, end military interference in politics, and hold elections immediately: The state should desist from banning or breaking up any political party and engage in introspection on the deep drivers of grievances and the absence of institutionalized mechanisms to channelize these grievances. In a country of 230 million people, with an increasingly young and urban population, there is a legitimate expectation that people should have the right to choose their leaders and government. The military’s continued interference in politics (courts, police, media, and political parties) consistently denies this right and public grievances are more likely to be directed at the Army. To avert imminent chaos, we demand that the ruling establishment must step back from this interference and hold timely, and free and fair elections, with all legitimate political forces allowed to contest.
Please sign our letter here