ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Pakistan to stop using the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as a tool for political witch-hunt in the light of a recent Supreme Court decision which termed the anti-graft agency’s conduct as a manifestation of “utter disregard to the law, fair play, equity and propriety”.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the international rights watchdog, while citing the July 20 verdict issued on the bail petition of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MP Khawaja Saad Rafique in Paragon Housing reference, urged the government to “investigate and prosecute” bureau’s officials purportedly responsible for “unlawful arrests and other abuses”.
The apex court in its strongly-worded verdict had called the case against the former minister as “a classic example of [the] trampling of fundamental rights, unlawful deprivation of freedom, and liberty and the complete disregard for human dignity as guaranteed by the Constitution”.
The judgment is “just the latest indictment of the NAB’s unlawful behavior,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Pakistani authorities should stop using a dictatorship-era body, possessing draconian and arbitrary powers, to intimidate and harass opponents.”
The body also asked the government to reform the accountability watchdog through parliament to transform it into an “independent” organisation.
The HRW observed the Supreme Court decision had also “expressed concern about the use” of the bureau “as an instrument to target government opponents”.
“The court cited a February report by the European Commission which criticised the NAB for bias, noting that ‘very few cases of the ruling party ministers and politicians have been pursued since the 2018 elections, which is considered to be a reflection of NAB’s partiality’.”
The rights body noticed that the bar associations including the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) endorsed the apex court’s ruling.
The body also condemned what it called the bureau’s arbitrary use of powers of arrest, saying that an arrest “has to be justified”. In this regard, it cited the arrest of Mir Shakeelur Rehman, the Editor-in-Chief of Jang Group, who was arrested by the bureau in March this year in a 34-year-old property purchase case.
“Pakistani authorities should uphold the government’s human rights obligations,” Adams said, adding: “Pakistan’s parliament should amend or repeal the NAB ordinance to ensure that the principles of [a] fair trial, due process, and transparency are not compromised on the pretext of accountability.”