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Dozen rights groups shut down in Punjab

Dozen rights groups shut down in Punjab

ISLAMABAD – Authorities in Punjab have ordered several women’s and human rights groups to shut down, accusing them of unspecified “anti-state” activities, an official of a human rights group said.

The government has toughened its stance against local and international non-government bodies in recent years, accusing some of using their work as a cover for espionage. In 2015, it ordered Save the Children expelled but reversed the decision.

“They are shutting up people by harassment,” IA Rehman, an official of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told Reuters.

Police and security officials have ordered about a dozen non-government organisations (NGOs) to halt operations, mostly in southern Punjab, Rehman added, with groups working on women’s and human rights appearing to be the main targets.

“The provincial government has given orders to district police offices that so-and-so organisation has been indulging in anti-state activities, so ban this organisation,” he said.

Punjab Home Minister Rana Sanaullah did not respond to written queries about the orders.

However, country’s small community of liberal groups is worried about a new crackdown on anyone seen as criticising the government, as concern grows over five liberal writers and activists who went missing this month.

The government denies any role in the disappearances.

Two officials of non-government bodies in Punjab told Reuters police had ordered their employees to halt work.

“Yesterday, the police went to one of my colleagues in Bahawalpur and asked him to shut our office over there,” said Mohammad Tehseen, director of South Asia Partnership Pakistan, which focuses on women’s rights.

The police gave him a letter, seen by Reuters, issued by the Punjab Home Department alleging that his organisation was “pursuing (an) anti-state agenda”.

Tehseen denied the charge, and said the police would not specify any actions to support the accusation.

Telephone calls to police in Bahawalpur went unanswered on Thursday and Friday.

Other organisations have received similar letters, Rehman said.

Another NGO, Women in Struggle for Empowerment, was ordered to halt work in Punjab and obtained a copy of another letter from a provincial agency accusing it of activities “detrimental to National/Strategic Security”.

A copy of the letter provided to Reuters by the group’s director, Bushra Khaliq, cites an order from the ministry of the interior.

A ministry spokesman on Friday said he was checking on the letter with officials in the ministry.

NNI adds: South Asia Partnership Pakistan was stopped from operating in Layyah district of Punjab due to its ‘anti-state agenda’.

“It has been informed by the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad that reportedly South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) has been observed working in southern Punjab pursuing anti-state agenda alleging armed forces/LEAs for harassment of workers and curtailing freedom of action of NGOs/INGOs,” said a notification issued by District Officer Social Welfare and Baitul Maal, Layyah.

“Towards this purpose the NGO prepared a shadow report of sharing with UN Human Rights Commission presenting a very bleak picture of human rights situation in Pakistan forgetting directly the measures adopted in context of NAP and operation Zarb-e-Azb,” the government letter said.

Through the notification, the NGO has been barred from working in district Layyah.

The Nation

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