On 25th of September 2014 Baba Jan and 11 other activists of Gilgit Baltistan were sentenced to life imprisonment by an Anti-Terrorism Court in Gilgit city. Baba Jan and the others sentenced, however, are not terrorists. He is a respected political activist of Gilgit-Baltistan. He has been sentenced because of his continued activism in support of the oppressed of the region.
In January 2010, a mountain collapsed into Hunza River and created what is now termed the Attabad Lake. As the lake formed, village after village was submerged. In total, over 1000 were displaced and over 25,000 were cut off from the rest of the country (the lake had destroyed the one road that connects the area to Pakistan). The plight of Gilgit-Baltistanis was ignored. Baba Jan, toured the country lobbying for the government to drain the lake and create transport facilities for the affected. The Pakistan Peoples Party government acted too late. The lake is now a permanent feature of the area. To off-set the protests of the displaced, the government promised compensation.
For some, compensation never arrived. An official list of those who were to receive compensation named 457 families. However, over a hundred of these families did not receive their compensation until recently.
On 11th August around 200 people protested for the rights of those families who had not received compensation as the Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, Mehdi Shah, was visiting the town of Aliabad. The police, instructed to remove the protesters by any means, started with a baton-charge, then used tear gas before opening fire with live ammunition. Their first victim was Afzal Baig, a 22 year old student. Then, when Baig’s father tried to retrieve the body of his son, he too was shot. Both died. The valley erupted and a police station and other government buildings were burnt down by the protesters.
Baba Jan arrived 6 hours later. He organised the protesters in a peaceful manner and they were promised an investigation and firm action against the police officers responsible for the killing. The protesters waited for the government to act.
It acted a week later. Arrest warrants were issued for numerous protesters including Baba Jan. While most of those arrested have been released on bail, Baba Jan was kept in jail for two years before being granted bail, while another activists, Iftikhar Hussain, has been denied bail for four years and also has now been sentenced to life imprisonment. Twice, Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain were picked up from jail and tortured. First, starting on the 12th of September 2011, for three nights for three to four hours at a time, he was beaten with sticks and had his feet crushed under boots, while, Iftikhar had candle wax dropped on his genitals. Again on the 28th of April 2012, Baba Jan was tortured. Police and Pakistani Rangers (a paramilitary force) entered his jail cell and beat him up. They then whisked him to an unknown location where he was again brutally beaten, and to humiliate him, shaved his head. He sustained had fractured fingers but was denied medical treatment.
Meanwhile, a judicial inquiry into the killing of Afzal Baig and his father was conducted. Its findings have not been made public but journalists who have seen it claim it lays the blame on the police force and local bureaucracy for the incident.
We call on the Government of Pakistan to publish the findings of the judicial inquiry into the killing of Afzal Baig and Sher Ullah Baig and to bring to justice those who are responsible for the police violence. We call on activists locally and internationally to protest the decision of the court, which is punishing innocent citizens and letting the police go free . Baba Jan and the other activists are being made an example of to stop the people of Gilgit-Baltistan from protesting for their national, political and human rights. We demand, above all, that the sentence be abrogated. We stand in solidarity with the political prisoners of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, Writer
Noam Chomsky, MIT
Anila Daulatzai, Harvard University
Saadi Toor, CUNY
Farooq Tariq, Awami Workers Party
Asma Jahangir, HRCP
David Graeber, London School of Economics and Political Science.
Magid Shihade, Birzeit University
Qalandar Bux Memon, Naked Punch Review
Pervaiz Vandal, Architect
Goran Hugo Olsson, Film-maker
Pervez Hoodbouy, Foreman Christian College
John Chalcraft, London School of Economics and Political Science
David Barsamian, Alternative Radio
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