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Amnesty International demands release of ‘all peaceful protesters’ implicated in May 9 cases

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Rights organisation Amnesty International on Thursday demanded the release of “all peaceful protesters under detention” and called on the government to ensure the right to a fair trial for all those implicated in cases related to the May 9 riots.

During the riots in May last year which took place after PTI founder Imran Khan was arrested in the Al Qadir Trust case, at least 10 people lost their lives and hundreds sustained injuries, while approximately 40 public buildings and military installations were damaged, including Lahore Corps Commander’s House (Jinnah House) and Askari Tower in Lahore, General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Office in Faisalabad, FC Fort in Chakdara, Radio Pakistan building in Peshawar, Toll Plaza at Swat Motorway and the Mianwali Air Base.

In total, 62 outbreaks of violence were documented, inflicting a loss of Rs2.5 billion on the country, of which, according to the State, Rs1.98 billion in losses were suffered by the army.

To this day, the military says the events were a coordinated attack by the PTI leadership.

On the anniversary of the riots today, Amnesty said: “The military and police used unlawful force against protesters, arbitrarily detained thousands, over a hundred of whom were detained in military custody, and imposed blanket suspension of mobile internet and social media platforms lasting several days.”

It said that “scores” of protesters were still in custody, implicated in multiple cases and were repeatedly denied bail. It added that 85 protesters were currently under military custody and being tried in military courts in a “blatant violation of international human rights principles”.

Amnesty said it was concerned about the prolonged detention of women protesters, including PTI’s Sanam Javed, Yasmin Rashid and Alia Hamza, and the violation of their pre-trial rights through “persistent denial of bail”.

“There has been a pattern of filing new cases and arrests after bail is granted in existing cases to keep protesters under custody. Families of those under civilian and military custody have been severely impacted, many losing their sole breadwinners and bearing the emotional brunt of their absence,” Amnesty said.

It called on government to unconditionally release all peaceful protesters under detention and ensure the right to a fair trial was provided to those implicated in the protests as per its obligations under international human rights law.

“Immediately suspend trials of civilians through military courts,” it further said and also called to end practices impeding the right to protest, including laws that penalised protesters and blanket bans on protests through imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

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