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End secret detention of rights defender, independent experts urge Pakistani authorities

The experts said they are seriously concerned for the life of Idris Khattak – an activist who worked on a number of reports on disappearances in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas – as he has not had contact with the outside world since he was taken into custody by Pakistani Military Intelligence on 13 November 2019. 

On 16 June 2020, authorities acknowledged for the first time that Mr. Khattak has been in their custody, seven months after he was taken away. 

“The mere acknowledgment that he is in custody does not absolve Pakistan of its human rights obligations. Pakistani authorities must produce him and guarantee him a fair trial,” the experts said in a news release on Friday. 

An emblematic case of enforced disappearance 

Mr. Khattak is also a former consultant for human rights NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. 

His case is emblematic of the many enforced disappearances occurring in the country, and the concealment of his fate and whereabouts constitutes a continued offence of enforced disappearance, said the experts. 

“We are concerned that Mr. Khattak’s human rights are being violated,” they added, noting that he has not been allowed to speak to his lawyer, family and he allegedly has not been given a medical examination by an external independent doctor. 

The Pakistani rights defender is reportedly facing charges under the Official Secrets Act and Army Act as a civilian. Use of the Official Secrets Act is yet another means of silencing dissent from human rights defenders including those working on minority issues in Pakistan, the experts said. 

“The flagrant abuse of authority and lack of cooperation by the Military Intelligence to produce Mr. Khattak before the Peshawar High Court during the habeas corpus petition is a violation of their obligations under international human rights law,” stressed the experts. 

Concerns over inadequate investigation 

The High Court dismissed Mr. Khattak’s case, saying it did not have jurisdiction, and the Joint Investigations Tribunal, constituted to probe into cases of enforced disappearances, closed the case reportedly because he was no longer considered a missing person.  

The experts are concerned that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances disposed of the case prematurely without an adequate investigation or recommendation to the respective authorities for criminal responsibility or ordering compensation. 

“We urge authorities to conduct an independent and thorough investigation into the institutional and criminal responsibilities for Mr. Khattak’s disappearance and arbitrary detention with a view to end impunity,” they said. 

“The victim and the family also have a right to redress, rehabilitation and compensation,” the experts added, noting that they will continue to engage with the authorities and closely monitor the situation. 

The experts making the appeal include the special rapporteurs on torture; on the situation of human rights defenders; on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and on minority issues; as well as the members of Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. 

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

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