By RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal
February 15, 2020
A court in Pakistan on February 15 ordered the release of a Pashtun leader, weeks after he was arrested charges including sedition.
A lawyer for Manzoor Pashteen told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that his client had been granted bail and ordered released.
Pashteen was arrested in the northwestern city of Peshawar early on January 27 on five charges, including sedition, hate speech, incitement against the state, and criminal conspiracy.
Pashteen’s lawyer Saeed Akhtar said his client had already received bail over three of five charges against him. He said Pashteen was granted bail over the remaining two charges on February 15.
Akhtar added that he hoped Pashteen would be released from jail later in the day.
The 28-year-old Pashteen is the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which defends the rights of Pashtuns in Pakistan, the country’s largest ethnic minority.
The PTM has campaigned for civil rights for ethnic Pashtuns since 2018.
The group has attracted tens of thousands of people out to public rallies to denounce the powerful Pakistani army’s heavy-handed operations in the militancy-hit tribal regions and the military’s alleged connection with Islamist militants.
The PTM has been calling for the removal of military checkpoints in tribal areas and an end to “enforced disappearances” in which suspects are detained by security forces without due process.
Pakistan’s government rejects allegations that security forces or its intelligence service are responsible for enforced disappearances.
His detention was condemned both in Pakistan and abroad, including in Afghanistan, where Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) had urged Pakistani authorities to release Pashteen and drop the charges against the activist, saying that “using criminal laws to chill free expression and political opposition has no place in a democracy.”
The activist had been “arbitrarily detained for exercising his human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” according to Amnesty International.
In a post on Twitter, Mohsin Dawar, a Pakistani parliamentarian and a PTM leader, expressed his thanks to all who had called for Pashteen’s release.
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