Pakistan: Trade Unionist Faces Death Penalty on Treason Charge; Military Readies Sham Courts to Rubber-Stamp Dictatorship and Quell Democratic Dissent

Liaqat Ali Sahi, Convener of the Pearl Continental Hotel Karachi Workers Solidarity Committee and General Secretary of the Democratic Workers Union, State Bank of Pakistan under police detention.
In a series of disturbing incidents, following the imposition of emergency rule, Pakistan’s military rulers are seeking to quell all democratic dissent by giving the army wide-ranging powers to bring people before military courts and threatening the death penalty against activists. Liaquat Ali Shah, one of the leaders of the solidarity campaign for the Karachi Pearl Continental Hotel Trade Union, and a trade union leader in his own right at the State Bank of Pakistan has been charged with treason, an offense which carries the death penalty.

On 5th November, after speaking at the Karachi Press Club and calling for the return to democracy in Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Shah, along with four others, was arrested and charged with treason. These arrests have occurred along with hundreds, possibly thousands, of others across the country which have targeted trade unionists, political leaders, activists, journalists and lawyers who provide high profile support to the campaign to restore democracy in Pakistan.

The charges of treason mark a new level of intimidation. The implicit violence carried via the potential death sentence of a treason charge is designed to threaten all democracy activists.

To further the military’s agenda of stamping out all opposition, on 10th November, an ordinance was declared which amended the Army Act (1952) and gave the military the power to court-martial civilians (ie trial by military courts). Among the wide-ranging jurisdiction given to the Army are the powers to try persons who may have given “statements conducive to public mischief”. In effect, all democratic opposition to the military of Pakistan has been declared illegal and Pakistan’s citizens have no legal recourse whatsoever to justice.

However, opposition to these latest arrests is occurring and meetings have been held to demand the release of all imprisoned trade unionists, political leaders, journalists, and lawyers.

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