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Matt Cherry, IHEU representative at the UN New York, and chair of the UN NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion and Belief has called on Pakistan to release immediately from detention Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief.


He writes:

Pakistan has arrested the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir. Jahangir was placed under house arrest late on Nov. 3, 2007, following President Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule and the suspension of the constitution. One of Pakistan’s leading human rights lawyers, Jahangir is also the United Nations official responsible for monitoring freedom of conscience around the world.

Asma Jahangir
Asma Jahangir (left) and IHS executive director Matt Cherry at a UN meeting on Oct. 25, 2007

Less than two weeks ago, on Oct. 25, as president of the Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the United Nations, I met with Jahangir at the UN in New York. At an NGO briefing I chaired, Jahangir spoke powerfully about the rights of the non-religious and the challenges to freedom of conscience around the world.

Now, Jahangir seems to have been targeted precisely because of her vocal commitment to human rights and the rule of law.

A long-time human rights lawyer, Jahangir is president of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). On Nov. 4, 2007, the police raided the Lahore offices of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and arrested 55 of its members, according to reports from the HRCP. An arrest warrant was also issued against Jahangir’s sister, Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Human Rights Defenders.

Pakistan is a prominent member of the UN Human Rights Council and is therefore pledged to uphold the highest standards of promotion and protection of human rights. However, the arrest of human rights defenders in Pakistan seems intended to accomplish the exact opposite: denying fundamental rights and silencing their strongest champions.

Jahangir’s assistant at the UN in Geneva, Michael Wiener, told me today that Jahangir is well and “admirably courageous” in the circumstances. She appreciates the outpouring of support from human rights defenders across the world, and appears undaunted by her arrest.

On Monday, Nov. 5, she told The Economist magazine that she regretted that President Musharraf “had lost his marbles.”

I believe that everyone who cares about freedom of conscience and human rights should protest the arbitrary detention of Asma Jahangir. If you agree, please click here for contact details for leaders and representatives of the government of Pakistan and a sample letter calling for the release of Jahangir.

Matt Cherry, is the executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies. He is the author of Introduction to Humanism at the Continuum of Humanist Education, the online school of the Institute for Humanist Studies.

Reproduced with permission from www.humaniststudies.org

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