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Bhutto Assassination Vs Crackdown On Civil Liberty

Bhutto Assassination Must Not Further Crackdown on Civil Liberties, Says Amnesty International

Amnesty International (AI) today condemned in the strongest terms the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. "It is shocking to see someone's life cut short in such a brutal way. Attacks such as these can never be justified. They violate international law and the rules of democratic behavior," said Catherine Baber, director of Amnesty International's Asia Pacific Program.

Baber added that while the Pakistani government is under enormous pressure to keep the country calm and stable, it is important for President Musharraf and security forces to exercise restraint and uphold the rule of law. "The killing of Benazir Bhutto must not be allowed to become a setback to civilian governance or indeed lead to a further crackdown on civil liberties," said Baber.

According to news reports, Bhutto was shot in the neck by a gunman at close range during a political rally outside of Islamabad, an attack that was seemingly followed by a suicide bombing. Bhutto, the Pakistani opposition leader, was campaigning in advance of parliamentary elections that had been scheduled for January 8. Her assassination occurred just after President Pervez Musharraf lifted a state of emergency in Pakistan, which he had used to suspend the constitution and arrest thousands of activists and political opponents.

Amnesty International has consistently condemned Musharraf's recent actions, and has also called on the United States to leverage its diplomatic weight with Pakistan. On December 10 Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) was part of the Human Rights Leadership Coalition delegation that met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to press for reform. While Musharraf heeded a U.S. call to lift the state of emergency, AIUSA remains deeply concerned that the U.S. government has not yet made an unequivocal call for the restoration of an independent judiciary and the lifting of restrictions on the media, particularly television.

"Pakistan is at a dangerous crossroads," said Alex Arriaga, Government Relations Director for AIUSA. "If it cannot rely on an independent judiciary, some of the most dangerous aspects of martial law will become enshrined in its legal and political system, leaving the people's human rights in the balance. The United States government must press its ally, which has used the 'War on Terror' to justify its actions, and put an end to this slippery slope. Without these steps, the Bush administration will further acquiesce that fundamental rights can be denied, and those who oppose Musharraf are likely to face intimidation -- or even death."


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