Pakistan Watchlist 2024


Pakistan added to human rights Watchlist amid election fallout

5 March 2024

  • Opposition faced restrictions and arrests ahead of the elections
  • Internet and mobile phone services shutdown amid electoral tensions
  • The media has been muzzled, with the press facing censorship for covering the activities of the opposition
  • Protest crackdown escalates as authorities impose stringent measures to peaceful gatherings

The CIVICUS Monitor has added Pakistan to its watchlist of countries experiencing rapid declines in civic freedoms following the repression against the opposition, the censorship of journalists and attacks on peaceful protests.

Leading up to the elections on 8 February 2024 a crackdown on opposition voices was documented. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was barred from running, and PTI candidates faced significant obstacles, including the rejection of nomination papers. Hundreds of opposition members were detained in the months leading up to the election, with some charged under vague laws and tried in military courts, contrary to international law.

The elections were also marred by a clampdown on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, three core civic freedoms assessed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Media were barred from reporting on Khan’s speeches or rallies. The Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) also instructed all TV channels to stop giving airtime to journalists considered close to the former Prime Minister and individuals accused of criticising the military or the government. Following the elections, journalists have continued to be targeted such as Asad Ali Toor.

Restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information also included the disruption of internet and mobile phone services. In December 2023, authorities temporarily slowed down internet services and blocked access to major social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, amidst an opposition PTI online rally. NetBlocks, an independent internet monitor, confirmed the disruption, with users facing difficulty accessing social media platforms in cities like Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. Other disruptions in January 2024 were documented to coincide with online campaign activities of the opposition.Widespread internet disruptions and mobile phone suspensions were again reported on February 8th, the day of the elections and again on 17 February.

“In the lead up to the Pakistan elections we saw a systematic crackdown on civic freedoms. This includes the crackdown of the opposition around the elections, primarily the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, the disruption of the internet and mobile services and the targeting of journalists. These actions undermined the credibility of the elections and highlights the democratic decline in the country,” said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific researcher for CIVICUS.

The latest CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist coincides with the 55th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (26 February to 5 April 2024) and spotlights five countries experiencing a notable decline in civic freedoms. This assessment is made by data compiled by the CIVICUS Monitor in collaboration with research partners worldwide. Alongside Pakistan, the latest Watchlist also includes Kyrgyzstan, Palestine, Senegal, and Venezuela. The CIVICUS Monitor currently rates Pakistan’s civic space as “repressed”, the second-lowest rating a country can receive.

Around the elections in Pakistan, the authorities also sought to stifle dissent by the targeting of human rights defenders and activists. The Baloch and Pashtun communities in Pakistan continue to face suppression and human rights violations by authorities, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detention. In December 2023, the peaceful protest campaign known as 'The Baloch Long March' was initiated by women activists in response to the alleged killing of a Baloch man by the provincial Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD). Protesters encountered excessive force, including tear gas and water cannons, with hundreds arrested between December and January.

Additionally, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) continued to face crackdowns, with leaders like Ali Wazir and Manzoor Pashteen arrested on various trumped up charges. In recent years, the authorities have attempted to restrict PTM protests and use excessive force and firearms against its members, underscoring ongoing challenges to civic freedoms in Pakistan.

“Human rights defenders and activists remain at risk in Pakistan for speaking up or mobilising to demand for justice and accountability. The new government that comes to power must adhere to their international human rights obligations, take immediate steps to protect them and deal with the issues they have been raising. The failure to do this will see a further deterioration of the civic space environment moving forward,” added Benedict

About the CIVICUS Monitor

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents. Civic freedoms in 198 countries and territories are categorised as either ‘closed,’ ‘repressed,’ ‘obstructed,’ ‘narrowed’ or ‘open,’ based on a methodology that combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Pakistan is currently rated ‘Repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 50 countries in the world with this rating (see all). This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights (see the full description of ratings).

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