In recent weeks, Pakistanis have held a number of demonstrations to protest government policies. Several protests have been held in Karachi, Pakistanís largest city and the headquarters of two major opposition parties. In an effort to block the demonstrations, police have rounded up and arrested hundreds of opposition party activists. This happened most recently prior to a September 25th rally in Karachi, when more than four-hundred people were reportedly detained.
Pakistani authorities said that such arrests are necessary to prevent violence. And it is true that Pakistan has been torn by political violence and terrorism, especially in Karachi and other parts of Sindh province. But while governments have a responsibility for maintaining public law and order, this should not be used as a pretext for denying the right to demonstrate peacefully.
The mass arrests in Pakistan are a serious violation of the right to free assembly. Moreover, they come only a few months after a government crackdown on Pakistanís independent press. In May, several journalists were threatened, physically mistreated, arrested without charge, or had personal property destroyed.
Like several other countries in South Asia, Pakistan has a democratic system that is subject to many threats. One is terrorism, which has claimed many lives. When it takes legitimate measures to combat this threat, Pakistanís government deserves the worldís support.
But democratic institutions themselves are threatened when the government, in the name of fighting terrorism, denies such rights as freedom of speech and assembly. As the Pakistani government strives to uphold public order, it must be equally attentive to the fundamental rights of the Pakistani people.