Pakistan court orders release of Pashtun lawmakers

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Mohsin Dawar, right, and Ali Wazir are seen in this file combination picture. — Courtesy photo

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A Pakistani court on Wednesday ordered the release of two ethnic Pashtun parliamentarians, months after they were arrested for allegedly inciting violent clashes with security forces.

Both Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir — who rose to fame as rights activists for their strong criticism of Pakistan's powerful military — have been virtually unheard of since being arrested in May.

"Today, Justice Nasir Mehfooz from Peshawar High Court accepted the bail application and ordered the release of Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir," Tariq Afghan, one of the defense lawyers, said.

Afghan said both MPs were set to be released after completing legal formalities and paying bail.

Sangeen Khan, another defense lawyer familiar with the case, said the court accepted their bail application after finding contradictory reports in the investigation.

The two lawmakers have been held in custody for months over their alleged involvement in a violent clash at a rally near the Afghan border in Pakistan's restive tribal region in May that killed 14 people, according to Pakistani authorities.

Both MPs had been charged with murder, attempted murder, attacking law enforcement personnel, disturbing law and order, and terrorism, according to the lawyers and a court official.

The clashes followed months of rising tensions between the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM) — a group the two lawmakers helped found — and Pakistan's military after it issued repeated warnings to end their criticism of the security forces.

Since bursting onto the scene last year, the PTM has rattled the powerful military establishment, but a far-reaching media blackout has kept news and images of their rallies off TV screens nationwide.

Despite the pushback, the PTM has continued to demand action against the military's conduct during its fight against militancy — including investigations into disappearances and extrajudicial killings and an end to what it says is undue harassment of Pashtuns at security checkpoints.

North Waziristan, where the movement is believed to draw much of its support was once plagued by militancy, and Washington pressured Pakistan for years to act against Islamist groups based there.

The army has carried out multiple operations in North Waziristan and other tribal regions, and security — both there and across Pakistan — has dramatically improved in recent years.

However, the PTM claims the operations came at a heavy price because of alleged abuses. — AFP


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