EDITORIAL: No one can be condemned unheard
In an interview to CNN, President Pervez Musharraf, on a question regarding a Pakistani journalist Khawar Mehdi Rizvi reportedly detained by the authorities, said that he has “no sympathy whatsoever” for Mr Rizvi since “he was trying to bring harm to my country and he’s the most unpatriotic man”. Mr Musharraf’s statement about the detained journalist — at one point he casually said that he (Mr Rizvi) “must be in jail” — betrays an attitude that is deeply worrying on many counts. Consider.
Mr Rizvi was arrested in Karachi on December 16 along with two French journalists. The trio was reportedly investigating claims of Taliban activity in Quetta. While the two French journalists were charged with violating the terms of their visas and, having pleaded guilty to the charge, were released and asked to leave Pakistan, Mr Rizvi’s whereabouts remain unknown. The government has been issuing contradictory statements alternating between denying that Mr Rizvi is in custody and admitting that he is. Mr Rizvi has not been charged so far, though it seems that the government agencies picked up all three after determining that they were “faking” their footage of Taliban activity in Quetta.
Be that as it may, Mr Musharraf needs to consider certain issues. The first relates to habeas corpus, which forms the bedrock of modern political and social life. A civilised state vows, through an acceptance of habeas corpus — in conjunction with fundamental rights and due process of law for every citizen — that it shall not illegally detain anyone. In the case of Mr Rizvi, as in many other such cases past and present, the government of Pakistan has repeatedly violated this commitment to its citizens. This practice is unacceptable.
Second, if Mr Rizvi is guilty, and this is purely for a court of law to decide, this fact has to be proved through due process of law. And due process means both transparency as well as the right of the accused to defend himself. No one, and this includes Mr Musharraf, can condemn him or any other accused without a trial or before a trial has taken place. Neither can the citizens accept the absurdity of PTV showing footage of the detained journalist while the Federal Investigations Agency denies holding him in response to the habeas corpus petition filed by Mr Rizvi’s brother on December 30 at the Sindh High Court.
Three, even if Mr Rizvi has been picked up for reasons of national security, he cannot be denied his basic legal and other rights. Once the state decides to move against a citizen, the act automatically brings into operation all relevant laws governing detention and other legalities that follow an arrest.
It was only on January 11 that an interior ministry spokesperson admitted that Mr Rizvi was under detention and would appear in court “when it is essential”. But he refused to specify which security agency was holding him, saying this was “premature.” The high court’s order on January 20 that Mr Rizvi be produced before the court has also fallen on deaf ears.
We are also troubled by Mr Musharraf’s reference to Mr Rizvi as someone who was “trying to bring harm to my country”. The use of the possessive pronominal implies the country belongs to Mr Musharraf and he has deemed fit to not only condemn Mr Rizvi before a trial has taken place but considers him an outsider bent on harming something that belongs to Mr Musharraf. Clearly, if this logic and the attitude it reflects is allowed to persist unchallenged, it would end up shrinking the space for dissent. Mr Musharraf’s government has increasingly come under scrutiny on the issue of freedom of speech. We hope that, in keeping with his own vision of a modern, progressive Pakistan, Mr Musharraf would do the right thing — allow Mr Rizvi a free trial. If he is then found guilty, he must be punished. But he cannot be condemned unheard. *
Mr Elbaradei’s statement
Speaking to an American television channel the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad Elbaradei, has said that Pakistan did not provide nuclear technology to Iran or Libya. He said while there was a possibility that black marketeers were involved in trafficking in nuclear technology, he did not think the government of Pakistan was involved in proliferating nuclear technology or know-how to third parties.
This is a significant statement not only because it comes from the head of the nuclear watchdog but also because it gives the lie to a spate of stories in the Western press about Pakistan’s alleged perfidy in spreading nuclear goodies to states of concern. The government of Pakistan has already detained some personnel from one of its nuclear establishments and is investigating the possibility of some individuals having jumped their brief. President Pervez Musharraf has, on more than once occasion, made plain that Pakistan is a responsible nuclear power and would never do anything to break the nonproliferation norm.
With Mr Elbaradei’s statement, the commitment given by the government of Pakistan and Islamabad’s investigations into the whole affair, it is reasonable for Pakistan to expect an end to these charges that seem to appear routinely and leave the obvious impression that some vested interests in the West want to bring Pakistan under pressure. We would also recommend that the government take note of these charges more strongly in the future rather than going on the backfoot. It is time to confront the issue, not become apologetic. *