Asia: UN experts condemn conviction of Pakistan human rights defender and minority activist Idris Khattak

Geneva, December  16, 2021.- UN human rights experts condemned today the reported conviction of leading human rights defender and minority civil society activist Idris Khattak, who was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment following an apparent unfair trial by a military court in Pakistan.

“Mr. Khattak’s reported sentencing is an attack against the human rights community in Pakistan and sends a chilling message to civil society activists monitoring and reporting on alleged violations, committed by the military and security forces or with their consent or acquiescence, such as systematic or widespread enforced disappearances,» the independent experts said.

“Khattak and other human rights defenders and civil society leaders, including those belonging to the Pashtun minority, who have been arrested, or subjected to enforced disappearance for their human rights work or for the sole exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, of association or of peaceful assembly, must be immediately released,” the experts said.

Their families should be provided with reparations, truth and justice,» they added, while stressing that those responsible for these abuses must also be held accountable.

Khattak, who has worked to defend the rights of the Pashtun minority in north-west Pakistan, including documenting enforced disappearances, was tried by a military court under the Pakistan Army Act and charged with espionage and other conduct “prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State”, including allegedly revealing information related to the military operations in 2009 in the region.

Khattak was reportedly sentenced in secret by the Field General Court Martial, and neither his family, nor his lawyer have been informed about the judgement.

“As a civilian, he should have been tried by a civilian court. It is the State’s obligation to ensure Mr. Khattak’s rights to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law,» the experts said.

Khattak was abducted by security agents on 13 November 2019 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. He was subjected to seven months of enforced disappearance, exposing him to a high risk of torture. On 16 June 2020, authorities acknowledged he was being detained, without revealing his place of detention, and ever since he has been held incommunicado.

Over the past two years, Mr. Khattak had extremely limited contact with the outside world. His family has only been allowed to visit him twice, while his lawyer only met him twice before trial proceedings began.

«Mr. Khattak’s rights have been systematically violated during his detention and trial. Khattak’s detention and sentencing is part of an alarming pattern of silencing human rights defenders and outspoken civil society leaders through systematic abuse of counter-terrorism and security legislation, intimidation, secret detention, torture and enforced disappearance,» the experts said.

“Authorities must disclose all details of Mr. Khattak’s case and immediately allow his family and lawyer unobstructed and regular access. Further, in addition to releasing him, we reiterate our call on Pakistan to ensure a prompt and impartial investigation into the abduction, enforced disappearance, and incommunicado detention of Mr. Khattak, and to hold those responsible to account for any violations of his human rights.»

The experts have previously engaged with Pakistan authorities regarding the case of Mr Khattak.

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