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LAHORE: The provincial government’s announcement that it would track people listed in the Fourth Schedule (terrorism suspects) by implanting microchips under their skin has drawn criticism from human rights groups. 

At a press conference on February 25, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said people placed on the Fourth Schedule would have to wear anklets with micro-chips in them. That will help the government track their every move. Sharif said the police would also find out if they ever took the anklet off.

However on Wednesday, Home Minister Shuja Khanzada announced that microchips would be introduced in the bodies of people in the Fourth Schedule. He said the government had procured 5,000 microchips for the purpose.

An official in the Counter-Terrorism Department said that the government was considering the option of injecting a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip near the knees of people in the fourth schedule. The chip would carry their bio data and criminal records. The chip could be scanned by special instruments, he said.

Previously, people on the Fourth Schedule would have to inform the police if they wanted to travel to other areas. The official said placing microchips in their bodies would enable them to monitor their movement at all times.

Several human rights activists have spoken up against this idea. Human rights activist Dr Mehdi Hassan said the chips could only help police track people’s location, not their actions. “Treating people like pieces of meat does not seem to be an improvement of any kind,” he said.

Similar tactics of tagging certain people had been used by Stalin in Russia and in Nazi Germany, he said. “They should be inconceivable for a democratic country like Pakistan,” he said. It would be a gross violation of human rights and would damage Pakistan’s image abroad, Hassan said.

Former Supreme Court Bar Association president Asma Jehangir said if the government was considering any such options, it must stop immediately. “This is a barbaric thought which undermines basic human rights…it is not a feasible option. There are provisions in law to place hand collars on certain suspects released on bail. Implanting microchips in people is a denigration of human dignity.”

HRCP Chairperson Zohra Yousaf said this was very disturbing news. “This is harassment and invasive,” she said.

“Such techniques violate almost every fundamental right a person has.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2015.