New York [US], December 16 (ANI): As many as UN independent experts on Wednesday condemned the conviction of Pakistani minority civil society activist Idris Khattak.
A military court in Pakistan has sentenced human rights defender and political activist Idris Khattak to 14 years "rigorous imprisonment" on charges of espionage after anonymous sources claimed he had provided sensitive information to a "foreign intelligence agency."
Khattak, 57, was taken into custody on November 13, 2019, when armed men intercepted his car near Swabi, in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
"Khattak's reported sentencing is an attack against the human rights community in Pakistan and sends a chilling message to civil society activists monitoring and reporting on alleged violations, committed by the military and security forces or with their consent or acquiescence, such as systematic or widespread enforced disappearances", the UN human rights experts said in a statement.
The Special Rapporteurs upheld that Khattak and other rights defenders and civil society leaders - including those belonging to the Pashtun minority - who have been arrested or disappeared for their human rights work, must be immediately released.
"Their families should be provided with reparations, truth and justice", they added, while stressing that those responsible for these abuses must also be held accountable.
Khattak, who has worked to defend the rights of the Pashtun minority in north-west Pakistan, including by documenting enforced disappearances, was tried by a military court under the Pakistan Army Act and charged with espionage and other conduct "prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State" for allegedly revealing regional military operations information in 2009.
He was reportedly sentenced in secret by the Field General Court Martial, and neither his family nor his lawyer have been informed about the judgement.
"As a civilian, he should have been tried by a civilian court. It is the State's obligation to ensure Khattak's rights to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law", the experts underscored.
Abducted by security agents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in November 2019, Khattak was subjected to seven months of enforced disappearance, exposing him to a high risk of torture.
In June 2020, authorities acknowledged he was being detained, without revealing where, and ever since he has been held incommunicado.
"Khattak's rights have been systematically violated during his detention and trial. Khattak's detention and sentencing is part of an alarming pattern of silencing human rights defenders and outspoken civil society leaders through systematic abuse of counterterrorism and security legislation, intimidation, secret detention, torture and enforced disappearance", said the independent experts.
They called on authorities to disclose all details of Khattak's case and immediately allow his family and lawyer unobstructed and regular access.
"Further, in addition to releasing him, we reiterate our call on Pakistan to ensure a prompt and impartial investigation...and to hold those responsible to account for any violations of his human rights", they concluded.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work. (ANI)