Democrat leader and US Congressman Brad Sherman on Sunday expressed concern about the alleged persecution of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders and workers as well as journalists over the past year.
In a video message, the representative for California’s 32nd congressional district noted that the US and Pakistan have enjoyed a strong relationship since the 1940s.
“America must support democracy and human rights around the world and particularly in Pakistan,” he said, adding that this was also in line with the wishes of the IMF –the global money lender with whom Pakistan seeks the revival of a long-delayed bailout package.
Listing down a host of challenges that the country faces, Sherman stressed that what was most alarming for him were the events of the past year, including the “alleged custodial torture and sexual abuse of political figures such as [former] prime minister Imran Khan’s chief of staff Shahbaz Gill and the journalist Jameel Farooqui”.
“More recently, we mourn the death of the journalist Arshad Sharif and the political worker Zille Shah [Ali Bilal],” he added.
Sherman also expressed concern over “the anti-terrorism case against Imran Khan as well as the decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan to disqualify him”.
“Just a few days ago, Pakistan’s media regulator banned television channels from broadcasting the speeches and news conferences of the former prime minister, accusing him of attacking state institutions and promoting hatred. It also suspended the licence of ARY News — a private news channel,” he furthered.
He also maintained that his statements were not intended to “support anybody for any political office in Pakistan”, noting that he had in the past disagreed with Imran on “a number of international issues”.
“Rather, I am advocating for freedom of speech, due process and an even-handed application of the rule of law in Pakistan,” he stressed.
Sherman also said that the US Congress would continue to monitor the developments in Pakistan and was ready to provide whatever support the government may need for upholding human rights.
“Pakistani authorities should investigate the alleged abuses and hold accountable anyone who is responsible. Most importantly, we urge the authorities to make sure that going forward people are free and we don’t see political figures and citizens who simply want to participate in the process subjected to anti-democratic acts,” the US representative said.
It may be noted that Sherman had spoken with Pakistani philanthropist Dr Asif Mahmood in a meeting and held a telephonic conversation with Imran prior to releasing the video.
The development comes after relations between the US and the PTI have recently appeared to ease after months of tensions following Imran’s ouster from office.