Pakistan says Iran forced 5,000 of its nationals over border despite request to wait

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. (AP/File)
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Updated 12 May 2020

Pakistan says Iran forced 5,000 of its nationals over border despite request to wait

  • Opposition criticizes government for lack of testing and failure to quarantine people returning from Iran
  • Parliament sat on Monday for first time in two months, to discuss latest coronavirus developments

ISLAMABAD: Iran forced about 5,000 Pakistani nationals over the border into Balochistan, despite a plea by Islamabad to wait until quarantine facilities were ready to accommodate them, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Monday.

“I spoke with the Iranian foreign minister and requested time to make arrangements (for the pilgrims) but they couldn’t do it due to economic sanctions,” Qureshi said during a National Assembly session, the first convened in two months. He added that Pakistan had been left with no option but to admit its nationals.

Iran, a popular destination for Shiite pilgrims, is one of the countries worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Islamabad has blamed Iranian authorities for accelerating the spread of the virus by sending Pakistani pilgrims home without screening them for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

In late March, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on public health, Dr. Zafar Mirza, said: “Eighty percent of the COVID-19-confirmed patients in Pakistan originated from Iran, which lacked the capacity to deal with an international public-health emergency.”

During Monday’s parliamentary session, which was convened to discuss the latest coronavirus developments, opposition parties argued that the blame for the spread of the virus rests with Pakistan’s own government.

“You failed to test them, you could not quarantine them,” said Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. He condemning the government’s inability to ensure proper arrangements were in place at the main border crossing in Taftan, and accused the prime minister of lacking a strategy to limit the spread of the virus.

Senior Pakistani Muslim League (N) politician Khawaja Muhammad Asif criticized the government for a lack of testing capacity, and the prime minister’s “confused policy” on the lockdown.

“We are tired of it,” he said. “He isn’t providing leadership, he is providing confusion.”

Khan did not attend the session. The government began to ease precautionary lockdown measures across the country on Saturday, and Qureshi defended this decision by stating that had it not done so, about 71 million people would have been forced into poverty. He added that the testing capacity has risen to 20,000 a day.

“I admit that this capacity is still low but we will improve it gradually,” he said. Infections in the country have yet to peak but, he noted, the national mortality rate of 2 percent is lower than the global average of 6.8 percent.

There were nearly 31,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan as of Monday, and 667 deaths linked to COVID-19. The country, which has a population of 210 million, has conducted about 295,000 tests, including about 11,400 in the past 24 hours.


Philippine activists welcome EU call for probe into rights abuses under Duterte government

This handout photo taken on June 2, 2018, shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gesturing as he gives his departure speech at the Manila International airport. (AFP)
Updated 27 min 7 sec ago

Philippine activists welcome EU call for probe into rights abuses under Duterte government

  • European lawmakers urge Filipino authorities to drop charges against acclaimed journalist, opposition senator

MANILA: Philippine human rights groups on Friday welcomed a European Parliament resolution denouncing extrajudicial killings and abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

The document, adopted on Thursday, called for an “independent international investigation” into human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016, when Duterte took office.

It urged EU member states to support the resolution at the ongoing 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Philippine human rights alliance Karapatan described the resolution as a “welcome step toward reckoning and accountability over the Duterte administration’s blatant disregard of its obligation to uphold human rights and civil liberties in the country.”

The group also called on the international community to continue to stand with human rights defenders in the Philippines and the Filipino people “who suffer in this worsening crisis of political repression and state violence under this increasingly tyrannical regime.”

The European Parliament condemned extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations related to Duterte’s controversial war on drugs, which according to official figures has led to around 6,000 suspected drug offenders being killed by security forces. Rights groups, however, suggest the death toll may be much higher.

European lawmakers also urged Philippine authorities to renew the broadcast license of the country’s TV giant ABS-CBN and for charges to be dropped against acclaimed journalist and CEO of the Rappler news website, Maria Ressa, and detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima.

In addition, the European Parliament expressed “serious concern” over the new Anti-Terrorism Act enacted in July, which criminalizes acts that incite terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations.”

It also granted the president power to create an anti-terrorism council that could tag individuals and groups as terrorists, allow authorities to make detentions without charge, and wiretapping.

Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said she hoped the EU resolution would “enjoin other governments and the international community at large to continue to take a strong stance in denouncing the Duterte administration’s attacks on human and people’s rights in the Philippines.”

She added: “The sham drug war has continued to kill the poor with impunity while human rights defenders face vilification, violence, and death for their work in exposing these human rights violations even in the middle of a pandemic (COVID-19).

“Domestic mechanisms have been ineffective and there has been outright failure in bringing the perpetrators of these gruesome crimes to justice. These attacks cannot continue, and the European Parliament’s resolution is a strong statement from the international community that there would be consequences for these abuses.”

EU lawmakers also called on the European Commission to suspend the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), which provides tariff perks for Filipino goods, if there was no “substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities.”

In response to the resolution, Filipino Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said: “We are able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised and we don’t see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn,” adding that the scheme was helping the country address poverty.

The president’s office, Malacanang Palace, said in a statement that the government was in talks with the UN on a framework to support national efforts to “uphold the human rights-based approach in governance.”