US congressman raises concerns over violations of human rights, freedom of speech in Pakistan

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US Congressman Brad Sherman has raised concerns over what he said was the continuous violation of human rights and democracy in Pakistan and called on the government to ensure freedom of speech and the application of rule of law in the country.

Sherman is a Democrat representing California’s 32nd congressional district.

Earlier, he tweeted that he spoke over the phone with former prime minister Imran Khan and met Dr Asif Mehmood, a Pakistani philanthropist and Democratic candidate running against Young Kim in the state’s 40th congressional district.

In a video message shared by the PTI on Twitter today, Sherman, standing alongside Dr Mahmood recalled that ties between the United States and Pakistan date back to the early 1940s, and over the years the two countries had worked together on several global and regional issues.

“America must support democracy and human rights around the world and particularly in Pakistan,” he pointed out.

“It is not the role of the United States to involve itself in Pakistan’s internal governmental matters with respect to Pakistan’s constitutional and democratic process. But we must not shy away from raising our voices for human rights and democracy in Pakistan or anywhere else.

“The Government of Pakistan and every government should respect the right of people to speak, the right to organise, the right to demonstrate,” he said.

The American congressman stated that everyone wanted to see a “calm, orderly, democratic and prosperous Pakistan where Pakistanis can have the freedom to have an open and political dialogue”.

He went on to say that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — with whom the country is in talks for a long-delayed loan programme — also wanted to see a stable Pakistan that followed the rule of law.

Sherman highlighted that the country was facing a host of internal and external challenges, saying that growing extremism, intolerance, and dissent were threatening Pakistan’s prospects for social cohesion.

He also mentioned the recent bombing at the Peshawar Police Lines mosque in which nearly 80 people — mostly policemen — were killed.

“The inability of state institutions to reliably provide peaceful ways to resolve grievances is the vacuum which is being exploited by extremism.”

Sherman said that he was particularly alarmed at the incident of “custodial torture” and “sexual abuse” of PTI leaders Shahbaz Gill and Azam Swati.

He also mentioned the “brutal deaths” of journalist Arshad Sharif — who was shot dead in Kenya last year — and PTI worker Zille Shah, who the party claims was killed during the crackdown on its March 8 election rally.

“This is not what you would like to see in a democratic country,” Sherman stressed.

Equally condemnable, he continued, were the cases and media bans on former prime minister Imran Khan.

“Now I am not here to support any political office in Pakistan, I am not here to support Mr Imran … in fact, I disagree with him on a number of international issues nor is it my role to wade into Pakistan politics.

“Rather I am advocating for the freedom of speech, due process and the even application of the rule of law in Pakistan,” Sherman stated.

He added that US Congress was monitoring the situation in Pakistan and was ready to dispense any kind of help to the government regarding human rights.

“Pakistani authorities should investigate the alleged abuses and hold accountable anyone who is responsible. Most importantly, we urge the authorities to make sure that going forward people are free and we don’t see political figures and citizens who simply want to participate in the process subjected to anti-democratic acts,” the US congressman said.