500 PPPP workers released: officials
* Human Rights Watch says thousands still behind bars
LAHORE: The authorities said on Monday that they had released most of the opposition workers whom they detained at the weekend just before PPPP leader Asif Ali Zardari returned from Dubai on Saturday.
Some 500 workers were bailed out by courts in Lahore, court officials said.
PPPP lawyer Amir Hashmi said that 26 women members including MPAs from Sindh arrested by the Naulakha Police, 176 workers by the Lower Mall Police and 24 workers detained at the Misri Shah Police Station were granted bail, but most of them were not released due to non-availability of bail bonds. The majority of some 30 PPPP lawmakers including Samina Ghurki were released, a PPPP spokesman said.
Khalid Hasan adds: Human Rights Watch has asked the Pakistani government to immediately release thousands of PPPP supporters who it noted were arrested arbitrarily.
The statement said that the Punjab government had offered to release PPPP legislators, and some 600 party activists had been bailed, but thousands more remain in custody without charge in Punjab and Sindh. Police beat and manhandled many supporters, including women, when they attempted to chant slogans or protest police brutality. At least three women were severely injured and have been hospitalised, HRW said.
According to Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, "General Musharraf talks of 'enlightened moderation' and says he is moving towards full democracy. But democracies don't use force to prevent peaceful gatherings. There is nothing enlightened or moderate about arresting thousands of people who merely want to participate in the country's political process."
Watch noted that Asma Jehangir, a UN human rights special rapporteur and head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was denied access to police stations where detainees were being held despite repeated requests. Some journalists were detained at the airport for several hours and their equipment confiscated. Other reporters faced intimidation in attempting to cover events in a city effectively cordoned off by thousands of police. Cell phones and cameras of journalists accompanying Zardari were snatched and footage destroyed. Watch said, "The Punjab government imposed the discredited colonial era law, Section 144, which prevents gatherings of four or more people. The Punjab Police set up checkpoints and roadblocks on routes leading into the city, and within Lahore."