By Editor Foreign Affairs
Islamabad: The Pakistani authorities must immediately disclose the whereabouts of Idris Khattak and lift the veil of secrecy surrounding his case, said Amnesty International, on the first anniversary of the prominent human rights defender’s enforced disappearance.
Idris Khattak, who has worked extensively to tackle enforced disappearance, including with Amnesty International, has not been seen or heard from since being abducted while on his way home from Islamabad to Peshawar on 13 November 2019. On 16 June 2020, more than six months after his disappearance and following a public campaign by his family, the Pakistani Ministry of Defence confirmed that Idris Khattak was in their custody and had been charged with treason under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) – a charge punishable by death. They also stated he would be tried in a military court.
“A year after he was taken from them, Idris Khattak’s family remain completely in the dark about where he is being kept, his state of health, and the legal process he is being put through, if any. The Pakistani authorities must end this intolerable situation by disclosing his whereabouts and allowing him regular access to his family and lawyer,” said Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International.
“As with all enforced disappearance cases, Idris Khattak’s legal status has been shrouded in unacceptable secrecy. No information has been provided about the nature of the charges against him, whether he has legal representation, or even if his trial has started. As a first step, the Pakistani authorities must bring him before a judge in a civilian court to rule on the lawfulness of his arrest and detention.”
Amnesty International has serious concerns about the use of a military court for the trial, given these courts’ disregard for due process, human rights and transparency. Moreover, the OSA is a law that can only be used to charge state officials, not civilians.
Idris Khattak suffers from diabetes and back problems. It is unclear if he has had access to the medical care that he needs while in detention.
“Following promises of a clampdown by the government, enforced disappearances remain an all-too-common occurrence in Pakistan. Despite an open admission from the authorities that Idris Khattak was abducted, those responsible have enjoyed complete impunity so far,” said Omar Waraich.
“The Pakistani government must immediately make good on their pledge to criminalize this cruel practice.”
According to Amnesty International, on 13 November 2019, Idris Khattak was travelling as a passenger in a rented car which was intercepted near the Swabi Interchange of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. According to the application submitted by Idris Khattak’s family for the registration of the police case, four men in plain clothes put a black sack on the faces of Mr Khattak and the driver and took them to an undisclosed location. News of the abduction only became known when the driver was released on the night of 15 November.
Despite an election promise by the current government, there has been no progress in ending the practice of enforced disappearance nor in criminalizing it. The Minister of Human Rights, Dr Shireen Mazari, tweeted in September that Prime Minister Imran Khan found the practice “unacceptable.” There has been no other movement, despite strong rebukes from the Islamabad High Court.