Mazari’s arrest

Editorial Board
May 22, 2022

The clumsy arrest of former human rights minister Dr Shireen Mazari from outside her home in Islamabad on Saturday – during which she was pushed around by the women police officers who had...

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The clumsy arrest of former human rights minister Dr Shireen Mazari from outside her home in Islamabad on Saturday – during which she was pushed around by the women police officers who had come to arrest her – should be condemned without any ifs and buts. From what we know, the arrest, by the Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment, involved a land encroachment case that spans back to the 1970s. Regardless of the allegations and the denials, the truth of which needs to be determined by a court, the arrest has given out just the wrong signals – suggesting that the politics of vendetta continues. There was some redemption in the fact that as the PTI called a protest in Lahore, Hamza Shehbaz as the disputed chief minister of Punjab ordered Dr Mazari’s immediate release while the Islamabad High Court also ordered Mazari be produced before the court late Saturday night, with an explanation on why her fundamental rights were violated. Around midnight Saturday night, the IHC ordered the release of Dr Shireen Mazari – who was produced before the court – and instructed the government to conduct a judicial inquiry, and also asked the authorities to return her phone to her. Human rights activists including the HRCP have said that this was not a legal arrest but an abduction. Dr Mazari has said the same: that she was not given the reasons for her arrest as should happen when police present an arrest warrant. She was simply pulled out of her car by female police officers and then taken away. While Dr Mazari and her party have blamed the Shehbaz Sharif government – Mazari telling journalists outside the IHC that she felt PM Shehbaz and Interior Minister Rana Sanullah were behind her ‘arrest’ – the government seemed to have distanced itself from the entire incident, making things even murkier in an already complicated situation.

We saw an uptick in the trend of such ‘arrests’ without evidence under the PTI government, with serial abductions or custodial arrests continuing during its three and a half years in power. If the present government cannot end the trend, and cannot curb those who make random arrests, one wonders how it purports to be different to the previous regime. The PDM-PPP combine has said on many occasions that they don’t believe in settling political scores but it seems as alive and well in Purana Pakistan as it was in Naya Pakistan. Regardless of the why and the who, nothing can justify the sight of a former government minister being taken away arbitrarily by law enforcement – in a case that on the face of it at least seems to be too much of a stretch for an arrest. The past nearly four years have already created enough of a long list of arrests and detentions made using the flimsiest of charges – all seemingly targeting dissenting voices and critics of the previous regime.

Whatever the truth, it cannot be decided on the streets or by misusing the law and its enforcers. The proper procedures need to be followed through the legal system. There is enough polarization in Pakistan and even the slightest provocation on either side can only lead to a path of complete chaos. Political arrests are in poor taste and the excuse that the PTI indulged in blatant vendetta politics is useless. Schadenfreude makes for bad political reasoning. The previous government may have been the worst in upholding human rights but others stooping to that low will also be equally tainted. It is time for the state and government to take a step back and see the political realities around us: this is no time to indulge in past impunity.

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