By **Kelie Montalvo**
Yesterday, the UK arm of the international non-profit Reprieve, along with several local partners, sued the Pakistani government for its role in the abduction and detention of seven Pakistani citizens currently held in Bagram, Afghanistan. The prisoners are being held indefinitely and without charge at the U.S. prison in Bagram—a site known for the documented torture and abuse of its detainees—where they have been denied access to a lawyer or trial. A number of the prisoners have been held for several years and have reportedly undergone abuse; one prisoner was incarcerated two years ago at the age of fourteen.
Pakistani advocate Salman Akram Raja filed the legal action, known as the Bagram Petition, in the Lahore High Court yesterday. It charges the Pakistani government with violating human rights provisions in its own constitution—including the right to security, due process, and freedom from torture—and further, with violating international law provisioned by the UN Convention against Torture, which was signed by Pakistan. Reprieve, representing the prisoners and their families, is asking for the immediate release of all seven Pakistani citizens, and demanding that the Pakistan government be criminally charged for their role in the prisoners’ supposed “disappearance” and detainment.
The first hearing will be held in the Lahore High Court on October 4th, less than eight months after the Pakistani lawyers’ strike in February highlighted the tenuous relationship between Pakistan’s judiciary and unpopular government, threatening the already unstable democracy. The legal crisis came after President Asif Ali Zardari’s attempted judicial appointments were blocked by the Supreme Court on the basis that the President had not consulted Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry—the same Chief Justice whom Zardari was forced to reinstate after threats of a lawyers’ strike in 2009, and also the same Chief Justice whose dismissal led to former President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation in 2007. So the question becomes: Will the Bagram Petition lead to yet another showdown between the unpopular government and Chief Justice Chaudhry, and will that in turn lead to another legal/political crisis in the volatile democracy? We’ll see what happens on October 4th.
Copyright 2010 Kelie Montalvo
Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of “ghost prisoners” in the so-called “war on terror.”
Kelie Montalvo is the blog intern for Guernica.