(New York, March 9, 2005) -- The Pakistani government must immediately charge or release Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal, U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin who were abducted from their home in Karachi in August and have since been “disappeared,” allegedly by Pakistani intelligence agents, Human Rights Watch said today.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal were abducted between midnight and 2 a.m. on August 13, 2004, in a raid that involved at least 30 armed Pakistani intelligence agents. The agents broke through the concrete exterior wall and then broke into the house. No attempt was made to enter with consent. Neighbors came out of their homes to see what was happening, but were ordered to go back inside.
The intelligence agents, in plainclothes, held the Azfal family at gunpoint for an hour, threatening to kill them while they searched the house. They specifically demanded to see the U.S. passports and all other U.S. government-issued identity papers held by the brothers. Once the papers were located, they handcuffed and hooded the brothers, and then left with the brothers in their custody in a convoy of jeeps and vans typically used by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and police. Before they left, they locked the ailing mother of the two abductees in a bedroom.
When Zain Afzal’s wife and mother attempted to lodge an abduction case with the local police, the police refused to register the case, informing them that “this was a matter involving the intelligence agencies.” Witnesses also identified the abductors as government agents, based on the vehicles they drove and the manner of the operation. The police finally registered the case on November 15, 2004, on the orders of the Sindh High Court. During the habeas corpus hearings, filed by Zain’s mother, Pakistani authorities denied holding the two men.
Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal have not been heard from since August 13. Their whereabouts remain unknown. “Disappearances” are cases in which people are taken into custody and authorities then deny all responsibility or knowledge of their fate or whereabouts. Both are known to be Islamist sympathizers and have held membership of at least one militant group operating in Kashmir. Both received training at a camp run by Hizbul Mujahideen (HUM) at Mansehra in Punjab province during the 1990s. However, no evidence has been provided to suggest they have engaged in any criminal or terrorism-related activity, and neither has ever been convicted of any offense.
“The ‘war on terror’ in Pakistan has meant open season on Islamists,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But success in the ‘war on terror’ has to be measured by due process of law. The authorities should arrest and provide a fair trial to individuals guilty of criminal acts, not abduct them in the middle of the night and terrorize their mothers.”
The August 13 incident was the second time Zain Afzal was abducted by Pakistani intelligence agents. Last year, on May 5, he was taken away from the same house in Karachi and released the following day. Zain was severely tortured and returned home with a burst eardrum and severe lacerations on his back. He was unable to walk after being tortured in custody, and needed an operation on his ear. Medical reports corroborate these claims. According to the Afzal family, Zain said he was questioned about a trip to Afghanistan, about his feelings toward the U.S.-led “war against terrorism,” and about suspected links to Islamist organizations.
Human Rights Watch urged the Pakistani government to take immediate steps to end its practice of abducting suspects as part of the “war on terror” and to end the use of torture to extract information.
“President Musharraf speaks often of his government as being ‘moderate,’” said Adams. “But there’s nothing moderate in torture and the lack of due process in Pakistan today. The question is, what is the president doing to address these problems?”
Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the possible role of the U.S. government in this case. Nida Afzal, the Chicago-based sister of the two men, informed Human Rights Watch that she was telephoned by an FBI agent in late October. She alleges that the agent “categorically stated” that “they [Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal] are in our custody.” Later that day, two FBI agents came to see Nida Afzal at her home. The agents questioned her about her brothers’ links to Afghanistan.
One of the agents identified herself as Betsy A. Pryer and left a card. According to Nida Afzal, “They identified themselves and verified our identity. Though I pointed out that they had stated on the phone that my brothers were in their custody and asked repeatedly where my brothers were, the agents then refused to accept that they were in the FBI’s custody,” said Nida Afzal.
“The United States must clarify its own position,” said Adams. “Are the Afzal brothers in U.S. custody? Or are they in Pakistani custody, held at the request or with the knowledge of the United.States? Whatever the facts, the U.S. must do all it can to ensure that they are produced immediately.”
In the war on terror, many detainees, including Pakistani nationals, have routinely been held without any rights to a hearing before a judge, the right to counsel or even family visits, and without receiving a trial meeting international fair trial standards.
“President Bush has frequently said that the war against terror is a war of values, but has consistently been unwilling to speak out in favor of those values with close anti-terrorism allies such as Pakistan,” said Adams. “The United States needs to find its voice when it comes to human rights in Pakistan.”