Islamabad - The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has expressed concerns over slapping a ban on cultural activities and restrictions on the movement of women alone by a peace committee in Wana, South Waziristan.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, the HRCP said that “it is alarmed over a recent incident where a peace committee in Wana, South Waziristan, has issued a ban on virtually all socio-cultural activities in the region, including preventing women’s movement outside their homes unless they are with a mahram and prohibiting locals from using public spaces after 10 pm”.

It said: “It is particularly worrying that such a news surfaced following news about an undeclared military operation currently active in Shaktoi, Smaal, and Bobarh villages in the Ladha area of South Waziristan.”

“The HRCP is dismayed over the worrying recent movement towards the possible revival of Talibanisation in South Waziristan,” it said.

“The report about the Taliban peace committee’s issuance of pamphlets to locals in Wana, warning them to abide by the listed guidelines or face grave consequences, is of particular concern given the fact that there is an active military operation underway in parts of South Waziristan which apparently has not stopped this Taliban committee from its activities as of now.”

According to media reports, a meeting of the peace committee was held in Wana recently, where members of the peace committee, including local Maliks and elders, agreed to issue the restrictive guidelines. A couple of days after the decision, the pamphlets were distributed and on the following Friday, Maulana Taj Muhammad of Wana Markazi Jama Masjid made a sermon to implement the guidelines at any cost. According to the controversial pamphlets, music, athan (traditional wedding dance) and the use of narcotics have also been banned. “Due to the ban women were not able to frequent marketplaces or health clinics without a male family member. A vigilante committee has been appointed by the same peace committee to ensure implementation of the new guidelines and to help identify violators of these guidelines,” the HRCP said.

It said that it was disheartening that South Waziristan authorities have publicly denied the existence of such an incident, despite the pamphlets being widely available in the area and locals verifying the incident. “No group – state or non-state – should have the ability to restrict the rights of any Pakistani citizen in the FATA region,” the HRCP said.

The HRCP urged the government to immediately take steps to ensure that such barbarism was curbed right at the onset and the citizens of FATA were assured the same rights and opportunities as the rest of their fellow citizens across Pakistan. “The Taliban must be stopped firmly and straightaway, otherwise, the country, as a whole, risks being engulfed in the wave of Talibanisation that is threatening to swallow up FATA,” the press release said.

AFP adds: A leading rights group warned Tuesday of shrinking press freedom in Balochistan a month after a series of media outlets restricted activities following threats from militants.

Journalists in Balochistan said they were approached earlier this year by intelligence agencies who asked them to stop publishing statements by Baloch separatist groups.

After they did so the insurgents warned newspapers and private television channels of dire consequences for halting coverage of their activities.

The situation remains tense in the province where newspaper distribution is confined to 18 out of 34 districts, largely areas where the militants have little to no presence.

“In an already coercive environment where there are numerous restraints and threats to freedom of expression, the current suspension of newspapers only further exacerbates the situation,” Mehdi Hassan, the chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said in a statement in Quetta.

“In the prevailing circumstances HRCP calls on all sides to immediately desist from any activities that directly threaten journalists, newspaper employees and hawkers and their livelihoods.”

Pakistan is routinely ranked among the world’s most unsafe countries for reporters, and Amnesty International has singled out Balochistan for the deadly pressure journalists face there.

Rights groups say activists and journalists often find themselves caught between the security establishment and militant groups.

Reporting critical of security policies controlled by the powerful military is also considered a major red flag, with reporters at times detained, beaten and even killed.

As a result, while the media is nominally free and noisy, many practise an unofficial form of self-censorship.

Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, is Pakistan’s most restive province and afflicted by Islamist militancy and sectarian violence as well as the separatist insurgency.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), around 40 journalists have been murdered in the province since the start of the current conflict in 2006.