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Pakistan urged to free missing terror suspects

/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistan's new government must immediately release dozens of people who were secretly detained by spy agencies as part of President Pervez Musharraf's cooperation with the U.S.-led war on terrorism, human rights activists said Sunday.

Some of the detainees have been illegally handed over to U.S. custody, said Khalid Khawaja, chief coordinator of the Pakistan-based group Defense of Human Rights.

Critics claim Musharraf's administration has detained dozens of militant suspects without formal charges or access to justice or their families since Musharraf allied Pakistan with Washington following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Defense of Human Rights says it has registered 547 people believed to have disappeared into the custody of security agencies since 2003.

About 100 of them are political activists, Khawaja said.

He said a total of some 100 people who disappeared have been freed on Supreme Court orders following petitions by his group.

Pakistan's new government — led by Musharraf's opponents — promised to make freeing the secretly detained a priority. Authorities were still detaining people suspected of having militant ties, however, Khawaja said.

"They have failed to follow this agenda as ... promised," he said. "The system (of) picking up people seems to be still at work."

The now-ruling parties campaigned for the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections on a platform of opposition to Musharraf's authoritarian rule and his handling of the war on terrorism.

The parties' officials were not immediately available for comment on the report.

In recent years Khawaja's group has fought for the release of people whose relatives say have been held incommunicado by intelligence organizations.

Amina Janjua, wife of a Pakistani businessman allegedly detained in 2005, said the group plans to hold a series of conferences to raise awareness of the illegal detentions.

"All the people arrested here regarding the war on terror _ it is because of the American dictates, whereas it is not allowed under American laws," Janjua said. "Why is it happening in Pakistan? These are the questions that we have to put to the government."