/ 20 November 2007

Pakistan frees 3 400 held under emergency rule

Pakistan has freed 3 400 people detained under a state of emergency imposed by President Pervez Musharraf and will soon release the remaining 2 000, the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday.

”The federal and provincial governments have released 3 400 people, including political workers and lawyers. Some 2 000 remain in detention. They will also be released soon,” ministry spokesperson Javed Cheema said.

That would leave ”very few” detainees facing criminal charges and who must apply for bail through the courts to be released, Cheema said.

United States Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte urged Musharraf during a visit to Islamabad at the weekend to free all those arrested under emergency rule, as well as to restore the Constitution and hold fair elections.

The detainees rounded up after Musharraf imposed the emergency on November 3 were mainly lawyers, rights activists and members of the opposition parties of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Former cricket star Imran Khan remains in jail where he faces charges under anti-terrorism legislation. His party said on Monday that he had embarked on a hunger strike.

Khan planned to continue fasting until all judges sacked after the emergency was imposed on November 3 were reinstated, said his spokesperson, Hafeezullah Khan Niazi.

Khan, who heads his own small party and is a vocal critic of Musharraf, was arrested last week after emerged from hiding to lead a student protest against emergency rule. — Sapa-AFP