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Open Letter to the Government of Pakistan on the murder of human rights defender Mr Zarteef Afridi

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Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani,
Office of the Prime Minister,
F6/5 Cabinet Division,
Cabinet Block, Constitution Avenue,
Islamabad, Pakistan
16 December 2011

Re: Pakistan – Murder of school headmaster and human rights defender Mr Zarteef Afridi

Dear Prime Minister,

Front Line Defenders and FORUM-ASIA would like to draw your attention to the murder of human rights defender Mr Zarteef Afridi.

On 8 December 2011, Zarteef Afridi was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Ghundai area near Jamrod Bazaar, Khyber Agency. Zarteef Afridi was a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) where he served as the coordinator in Khyber Agency, one of the tribal areas in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the northeast of Pakistan. HRCP was founded in 1986 to provide an informed and independent voice in the struggle for human rights in Pakistan. Mr Afridi was a school teacher in Khyber Agency of FATA and had been a member of HRCP since 1992.

According to the information received, Zarteef Afridi was shot dead on the morning of 8 December 2011 by a group of unidentified attackers in Sangary, while he was on a motorcycle on his way to work at a local government-run school where he served as headmaster. It is reported that his murder was related to his work in organising a congregation of tribal elders to campaign against extremism and terrorism in the area.

Prior to his murder, Zarteef Afridi had been active as the HRCP’s core group coordinator in the area. Apart from his role in HRCP, Zarteef Afridi had been active with a number of peace groups in campaigning for the release of dozens of prisoners under the Frontiers Crimes Regulation. It is reported that he had been receiving death threats from local militants for his work on peace and human rights in FATA.

Front Line and FORUM-ASIA condemn this murder in the strongest possible terms. We believe that the murder of Zarteef Afridi is directly related to his work in the defence of human rights, in particularly in his work in campaigning against extremism in the FATA area. We also see this as part of a pattern of ongoing harassment against staff members associated with HRCP.

Zarteef Afridi is the third member of HRCP to be killed in 2011. His murder follows that of Mr Siddique Eido, a journalist and a member of HRCP in Balochistan province, whose body was found on 28 April 2011 with a gunshot wound in the head and torture marks. On 1 March 2011, Mr Naeem Sabir, HRCP Coordinator in Khuzdar district, was shot dead by unknown assailants. Both of them had been active in campaigning against enforced disappearances in Balochistan.

We call on the authorities in Pakistan to:

Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into murder of Zarteef Afridi, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of staff of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and
Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Pakistan are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

We respectfully remind you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw attention to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration” and to Article 18 (2): “Individuals, groups, and non-governmental organisations have an important role to play and a responsibility in safeguarding democracy, promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms and contributing to the promotion and advancement of democratic societies, institutions and processes.”

Kindly inform us of any action taken in relation to this case.

Yours Sincerely,

Mary Lawlor
Front Line

Yap Swee Seng
Executive Director