UN calls for release of Kashmir rights defender Khurram Parvez

The United Nations on Wednesday sought release of Kashmiri human rights activist Khuram Parvaiz and asked for amendment in Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and a probe into the Hyderpora civilian killings.

“We are deeply concerned at the arrest of Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez’ under Indian counter-terrorism legislation, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA),” UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Rupert Colville said in a statement issued on Monday.
The UN has. raised concern over civilians killed by security forces in the course of anti-militancy operations including in Hyderpora recently, and disposal of their bodies in secret.

Parvez, who has now been in custody for more than a week, is accused of terrorism-related offences. “We are unaware of the factual basis of the charges. He is known as a tireless advocate for families of the disappeared and has been targeted before for his human rights work. In 2016, he was detained under another controversial law, the Public Safety Act, for two and a half months after being prevented from travelling to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. He was released after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court declared his detention illegal,” Colville said.

The UAPA, Colville said, empowers the authorities to designate individuals and organizations as terrorists based on imprecise criteria, contains a vague and overly broad definition of ‘terrorist act’, allows people to be held in lengthy pre-trial detention and makes securing bail very difficult. “It raises serious concerns relating to the right of presumption of innocence along with other due process and fair trial rights. The Act is also increasingly being used to stifle the work of human rights defenders, journalists and other critics in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India,” the UN statement added.

“In view of this context of previous reprisal for legitimate conduct, we call on the Indian authorities to fully safeguard his right to freedom of expression, association and personal liberty and to take the precautionary step of releasing him,” he said.

“We reiterate our calls for the UAPA to be amended to bring it into line with international human rights law and standards, and urge the authorities, pending the law’s amendment, to refrain from using this or other laws unduly restricting freedom of expression in cases involving civil society, media, and human rights defenders.”

Against this backdrop, the UN Human Rights Office, said it is increasingly alarmed by the rise in killings of civilians, including members of religious minorities, by armed groups in Kashmir this year. “At the same time, civilians have been killed by security forces in the course of counter-terrorism operations, and their bodies on occasion disposed in secret. One of these incidents happened on 15 November when four people were killed in a reported gunfight in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area, including two civilians.”

“There should be prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and effective investigations into all killings of civilians, and families should be allowed to mourn their loved ones and seek justice.”

“We acknowledge the need to prevent violence, but we are concerned at signs of a wider crackdown on civil society actors in Jammu and Kashmir. The use of sweeping counter-terrorism measures risks leading to further human rights violations and deepening discontent.”

“We call on the security forces and armed groups to exercise restraint, and to ensure that the rise in tensions in Jammu and Kashmir in recent weeks does not lead to further violence against the civilian population.” 

Modi government has crushed the media in IIOJK. At least 2,300 people have been booked under the UAPA in last two years.

The act is also increasingly being used to stifle the work of human rights defenders, journalists and other critics in IIOJK and other parts of India. UN rights body has demanded amendment in the law to bring it in line with the international human rights law and standards. The arrest of Parvez – recipient of 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award has been widely criticized by rights groups around the globe including Amnesty International.  World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), is “deeply concerned about the high risk of torture while in custody.” 


Pakistani soldier martyred during UN mission service in the Central African Republic: ISPR

A Pakistan Army soldier was martyred while serving in the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), the military’s media wing said on Thursday.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said Havaldar Muhammad Shafiq’s funeral prayer was held at his native town of Mian Channu in Khanewal. He is survived by his wife and three sons.

“[The martyred] soldier was buried with full military honors,” the statement said, adding that he had joined the UN mission in February.

“He was a brave and dedicated member of the Pakistan contingent [and was] ensuring the protection of civilians in CAR and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

So far, 162 Pakistani peacekeepers have laid down their lives as part of the global mission for international peace and stability, the ISPR said.

In September, Lance Naik Adil Jan embraced martyrdom while on duty during a peacekeeping mission in Sudan. He was part of the UN mission in Darfur responsible for the protection of civilians and facilitating humanitarian assistance in the district.

In February, Lance Naik Tahir Ikram died in Sudan when his truck had an accident in the South Darfur region.

President Alvi signs journalists protection bill into an act

ISLAMABAD: President Dr. Arif Alvi on Wednesday signed the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill into the act, and termed it historic legislation for the country.

Dr. Alvi said people did not want that their mistakes to be exposed so they put pressure on the journalists.

The bill focused on protecting the lives of journalists, saving them from harassment and torture, and ensuring their welfare by giving facilities of life and health insurance.

The President stressed the need for developing a culture of tolerance for journalists because they were only doing reporting and disseminating information.

Addressing the signing ceremony Federal Minister for Information Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said his ministry stood behind the working journalists and added that a section in Pakistan tried to give the impression that the press was not free here.

“If there is no free press in Pakistan, then there will be no free press anywhere in the world,” he added, “When it comes to press freedom, we compare ourselves not with the Third World and the Muslim World but with the First World.”

Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said since there was no defamation law in Pakistan, so there was more freedom of the press than even in the first world.

The bill has been prepared by the Ministry of Human Rights and the minister Dr. Shirin Mazari, in her remarks said the new law was progressive in nature and gave insurance of life and health to the journalists and media professionals.

Meanwhile, global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the inclusion of “an extremely vague section” in law on protecting journalists that were passed by the parliament earlier this month.

The RSF in a statement said that Section 6 of the law neutralizes virtually all the protection that it was supposed to provide.

“This section prohibits all journalists and media professionals from spreading ‘false information’ and producing material that ‘advocates hatred’ or constitutes ‘incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’ – without clearly defining what any of these terms mean,” RSF said in the statement.

Punjab govt will amend the law to use EVMs in LG polls

LAHORE: The Punjab government has announced its plans to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the upcoming local government elections on a plea that the federal government has already legislated and declared the use of the machines mandatory in all upcoming elections, while the government also managed to allay reservations of its ally, PML-Q, about the Punjab Local Government (Amendment) Act (PLGA) 2021.

“Since the federal government has legislated that all upcoming elections, including by-polls, will be held through the EVMs, how can Punjab deviate from the law?” a senior government official wondered while talking to Dawn on Wednesday.

“The Punjab government now earnestly wants that the clause regarding use of EVMs in all upcoming elections is included in the PLGA 2021, which is currently in the finalization stages,” the official added.

The federal government has already asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold all the next elections, including by-polls, through the EVMs. Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had also hinted that the government would not fund the commission if it did not hold the polls through the EVMs.

The commission, in the meanwhile, has asked the Punjab government to submit the draft amended PLGA 2021 in a week otherwise the LG polls would be held as per the law in vogue. “The ECP plans to delimit constituencies afresh according to the amended manuscript of the law, otherwise it will be compelled to hold elections as per the old delimitation of LG constituencies,” an ECP official explained.

The opposition parties, however, vehemently rejected the Punjab government’s plans to bulldoze the all-important legislation. They maintain the PLGA 2021 is being approved in an undemocratic way as no stakeholders have been consulted.

Even the PTI’s ally, the PML-Q, had previously raised objections and its minister, Muhammad Rizwan, had left the Punjab cabinet meeting after expressing his resentment that his party was not consulted.

Since Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar is currently out of the country and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi is holding the acting charge of the governor, he called for a briefing on the proposed amendments to PLGA 2021.

Mr Elahi, who is also the PML-Q’s Punjab president, had sought that tehsil councils be made part of the local government system besides fixing qualification requirements for mayor and district council chairman.

The Punjab government sprang up to control the damage. The chief minister held a meeting with the provincial law and local government ministers and the local government secretary and reviewed the law as well as the objections raised by the PML-Q. The CM was directed to continue consultations with the PML-Q and their objections be addressed, adding the new LG act had been drafted with consultations and hard work to empower the grassroots.

Sources claimed a Punjab government official delegation yet again met Mr. Elahi and convinced him that tehsil council could not be included in the law. Over the objection that at least intermediate education should be made mandatory for the mayor and district council chairman, the delegation informed the acting governor the qualification bar could not be included because there was no such requirement for MPAs and MNAs.

“Mr. Elahi agreed with the government’s explanation, but said at least the word “preferably” be included in the law with regards to the qualification,” claimed a government official, who was part of the delegation.

Reacting to the proposed amendments to the law, PML-N Punjab information secretary Azuma Bukhari said the PTI government did not bother consulting the opposition parties while preparing the all-important law. The government was doing legislation through special committees, while no discussion was allowed in the Punjab Assembly, she said, adding, “I was suspended from the assembly session when I tried to argue on the proposed law by the end of the last financial year.”

Regarding the Punjab government’s plan to make the use of EVMs mandatory in the next elections, Ms. Bukhari said, “Who are they to decide how elections should be held? This is the sole mandate of the ECP.”

PPP’s parliamentary leader Hasan Murtaza said the PTI government always did “bad legislation” without consulting the stakeholders. “It is a tragedy that the PTI government is trying to bring in an ordinance when the Punjab Assembly was there to legislate,” he remarked.

Mr. Murtaza said the ruling party should take all parliamentary parties onboard and rectify their reservations. “It is strange that the PTI government is not giving importance to 50 percent legislators in the Punjab Assembly,” he stressed.

Answering a question about the use of EVMs, he said PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had already rejected the government’s plan and moved to threaten and pressurize the ECP. “The PTI government wants to repeat the history of [Results Transmission System] and was looking to get an extension through the use of EVMs,” he claimed.

On the other hand, PML-Q Punjab information secretary Mian Imran Masood says their party accepted the government’s proposal to use EVMs in elections after holding negotiations with the ruling PTI after the joint session of parliament had to be called off briefly owing to reservations of the government’s allied parties.

The PTI government had dissolved the local bodies constituted under the PLGA 2013 by promulgating the PLGA 2019 in May 2019 soon after coming to power. It had appointed LG administrators – some 30 months ahead of completion of the tenure of LG representatives mostly belonging to the PML-N.

However, the Usman Buzdar administration reluctantly restored the local governments in the province in October to comply with a Supreme Court order. The existing local governments’ tenure will expire on Dec 31.

After delay, Nasa’s astronauts set for spacewalk to replace faulty space station antenna

Two National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) astronauts were set to embark on a spacewalk on Thursday to replace a faulty antenna on the International Space Station (ISS), after a 48-hour delay prompted by an orbital debris alert later deemed to be of no concern.

Nasa TV planned live coverage of the 6-1/2-hour spacewalk, scheduled to begin at 7.10 am Eastern time (1210 GMT) as astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron exit an airlock of the orbiting research lab some 250 miles (402 km) above Earth.

The outing is the fifth spacewalk for Marshburn, 61, a medical doctor and former flight surgeon with two previous trips to orbit, and a first for Barron, 34, a US Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer on her debut spaceflight for Nasa.

Their objective is to remove a defective S-band radio communications antenna assembly, now more than 20 years old, and replace it with a spare stowed outside the space station.

The space station is equipped with other antennae that can perform the same functions, but installing a replacement system ensures an ideal level of communications redundancy, Nasa said.

Marshburn will work with Barron while positioned at the end of a robotic arm maneuvered from inside by German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency, with help from Nasa crewmate Raja Chari.

The four arrived at the space station on Nov 11 in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, joining two Russian cosmonauts and a Nasa astronaut, Mark Vande Hei, already aboard the orbiting outpost.

Four days later, an anti-satellite missile test conducted without warning by Russia generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit, forcing the seven ISS crew members to take shelter in their docked spaceships to allow for a quick getaway until the immediate danger passed, Nasa said.

The residual cloud of debris from the blasted satellite has dispersed since then, according to Dana Weigel, Nasa deputy manager of the ISS program.

But Nasa calculates that the remaining fragments continue to pose a “slightly elevated” background risk to the space station as a whole, and a 7 percent higher risk of puncturing spacewalkers’ suits, as compared to before Russia’s missile test, Weigel told reporters on Monday.

Nevertheless, Nasa determined those risk levels, while heightened, fell within tolerable boundaries and moved ahead with preparations to conduct the spacewalk as originally planned on Tuesday.

Hours before the operation was to begin, Nasa received an alert from US military space trackers warning of a newly detected debris-collision threat, prompting mission control to delay the extra-vehicular activity (EVA) mission.

On Tuesday afternoon, Nasa said its evaluation concluded the debris in question — its origin left unclear — posed no risk to spacewalkers or the station after all, and the antenna replacement was rescheduled for Thursday morning.

Thursday’s exercise marks the 245th spacewalk in support of assembly and upkeep of the space station, which this month surpassed 21 years of continuous human presence, Nasa said.

A Nasa spokesman, Gary Jordan, said this week’s spacewalk postponement was believed to be the station’s first-ever caused by a debris alert.