Pakistan: HRW slams ‘excessive’ use of force, social media restriction amid Imran Khan protests


The Human Rights Watch on Thursday called out the “excessive” use of force against the individuals protesting the arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, and for the suspension of mobile, internet service amid the ongoing political unrest in the country.

“Pakistan’s police have fired on and used excessive force against protesters following the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan on corruption charges on May 9, 2023,” a press release by the HRW stated while pointing out the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and detentions amid demonstrations.

The rights protection body also termed the government’s move of cutting off access to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms an “overbroad and indiscriminate in violation of basic rights”.

It said that even if the internet shutdown was necessary to protect public safety and curb the spread of misinformation, as per the government, the sweeping measure denies ordinary people access to lifesaving information, interferes with access to health care, and restricts the ability of journalists to upload photos and videos documenting government overreach and abuse.

Although the HRW acknowledged the incidents of torching ambulances, police vans and vandalism, where the protestors across the country used “rocks, Molotov cocktails, and in a few cases, assault rifles”, it pointed out that the international human rights law prohibits broad, indiscriminate, and indefinite restrictions on fundamental freedoms, including the right to free expression and to provide and receive information.

Moreover, it also highlighted the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials which provide that security forces must use the minimum necessary force at all times.

“In dispersing violent assemblies, firearms may only be used when other less harmful means are not practicable but must still be used to the minimum extent necessary. Law enforcement officers may only intentionally resort to lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect life,” the HRW stated.

HRW’s Associate Director for Asia Patricia Gossman urged the government to uphold the right to peaceful protest while responding to violence with the minimum force needed, and also called for prompt investigation and appropriate prosecution in the said regard.

“Pakistan’s current charged environment is resulting in cycles of violence and counterviolence,” Gossman said, adding that it was vitally important that the authorities act “in a manner that doesn’t let the situation spiral out of control”.__The News