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Trade Unionists Arrested in Pakistan

November 15, 2007 by  


By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), a loose conglomeration of 163 million workers and territories with 305 national affiliates, has called for “the immediate restoration of the rule of law, the country’s Constitution and the fundamental democratic rights of its people” in Pakistan following the imposition of a State of Emergency last week.  Yet, while media attention outside Pakistan has focused on well-known opposition politicians — such as Benazir Bhutto and the cricketer Imran Khan, there has been scant coverage in the mainstream Western media of the arrest of trade unionists.  (Curiously, General Musharraf instituted the Constitution through his personal decree that these same international workers and others are calling for restoration.)

The ITUC has joined its Pakistan affiliate, the PWF (the Pakistan Workers’ Federation), in calling for the immediate reinstatement of the fundamental rights of the Islamic Republic’s citizens — including the freedom of association and of assembly that have been suspended under the state of emergency imposed by Pakistan’s “military” ruler General Pervez Musharraf. Heavy restrictions have been imposed on the media, and members of the opposition have been detained, and the government is placing further pressure on lawyers and the judiciary.

“The Constitution, rule of law and proper democratic processes must be restored!” proclaimed the ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder. “General Musharraf’s actions represent a huge step backwards for the whole country, and any attempt to deal with the tensions which exist within Pakistan cannot succeed unless it is based on the full exercise of the democratic rights by the people of Pakistan.”

Restrictions which are being imposed on the holding of meetings and demonstrations will have a particularly heavy impact on Pakistan’s workforce, as their trade unions will be unable to function freely, and effectively to represent workers, and support their rights. The ITUC from Brussels calls on the authorities to respect Pakistan’s international obligations, in particular concerning freedom of association and to take immediate steps to end the State of Emergency, and allow the elections scheduled for January 2008 to take place in full freedom and fairness.

Trade union activists are currently being arrested in both their homes and on the streets. The affiliated Pakistan Hotels, Restaurants, Clubs, Tourism, Catering and Allied Workers Federation and National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers are among the most active organizations in the civil society coalition struggling for democracy.

In Karachi, the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Solidarity Committee had been actively supporting Pakistan’s lawyers fighting against authoritarianism and for the rule of law.

Police began arresting activists nationwide on November 3rd when the State of Emergency was declared. In Multan (in the southern Punjab Province), Mohammad Ashiq Bhutta, Information Secretary of the National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers was arrested at his home at 3 AM on the Sunday after the Emergency was declared, and detained for 14 hours without charges before finally being released.

On November 5th in Karachi, trade unions took the lead in organizing, together with civil society groups, a protest at the Karachi Press Club.

Police arrested the convener of the PC Hotel Workers Solidarity Committee, Liaqat Ali Sahi, and two members of the Solidarity Committee, G. Fareed Awan, Assistant General Secretary of the All-Pakistan Trade Unions’ Federation (APTUF) and Ayub Qureshi, Information Secretary of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF).

Police, also, batoned and arrested journalists and press photographers.

The journalists and photographers were released later but not the trade union leaders who were remanded by a court decision to remain in police custody for two days.

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