Fri, 10 Apr 2020

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan -- Pakistani authorities have released a prominent ethnic Pashtun rights activist, weeks after he was arrested on charges including sedition.

Manzoor Pashteen left a prison in the city of Dera Ismail Khan in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on February 25, according to his lawyer and local activists.

The lawyer, Saeed Akhtar, said his client was released after being granted bail and ordered released.

The 28-year-old Pashteen was arrested in Peshawar on January 27 on charges including sedition, hate speech, incitement against the state, and criminal conspiracy.

He is the leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which has campaigned for civil rights for Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic minority, since 2018

The group has attracted tens of thousands of people to public rallies to denounce the powerful Pakistani Army's heavy-handed operations in the militancy-hit tribal regions and the military's alleged connection with Islamist militants.

The PTM has been calling for the removal of military checkpoints in tribal areas and an end to 'enforced disappearances,' in which suspects are detained by security forces without due process.

Pakistan's government rejects allegations that security forces or its intelligence service are responsible for the disappearances.

Human Rights Watch had urged Pakistani authorities to release Pashteen and drop the charges against him, saying that 'using criminal laws to chill free expression and political opposition has no place in a democracy.'

The activist had been 'arbitrarily detained for exercising his human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,' according to Amnesty International.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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