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Liberation: In G-B, the ‘Che Guevara’ of youth makes a comeback

September 18, 2012
By Our Correspondent
Published: September 18, 2012

Detained youth activist Baba Jan was finally released from jail on Monday, following the acceptance of his bail plea on Friday. PHOTO: FILE

GILGIT: Detained youth activist Baba Jan was finally released from jail on Monday, following the acceptance of his bail plea on Friday. He was received by youth and political activists outside the jail gate who raised slogans in his favour and vowed to continue struggle for the rights of the down-trodden people of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).

“We are pleased to see him out of jail after a year,” said a party worker. An anti-terrorism court judge on Friday accepted his bail plea in the last of the cases registered against him by the authorities in August last year.  Jan was taken from the district jail to the main market in a rally. “He is now free and we thank all those who expressed solidarity with him during his incarceration,” Ehsan Ali, his counsel, told The Express Tribune. “We are happy to see Jan out of jail,” Wajidullah, a spokesman for Progress Youth Front (PYF), said.  He said Jan would be taken to Hunza on Tuesday to celebrate his release.

Jan was granted bail by the same court on June 27. However, he was remanded to police again on charges of “inciting sectarian hatred and promoting anti-government sentiments among prisoners”. Jan, who is the chief organiser of Progressive Youth Front (PYF), was among the nearly 100 people, including youth activists, arrested for allegedly ransacking a police station and torching government offices after the death of an internally-displaced man and his son.

On August 11 last year, the police opened fire on the internally displaced persons, triggering violent protest in the peaceful Hunza valley. The joint investigation team tortured him and his comrades for three days.

The protesters were seeking compensation for the loss of their hearth and homes in the wake of a landslide that hit Attabad on January 4, 2010, killing 19 people, blocking the Hunza River and forming a 23km long lake that submerged three villages upstream in Gojal, rendering around 500 people homeless and 25,000 stranded. The lake also disrupted communication and trade between China and Pakistan.

Senate Committee on Human Rights recently called the chief secretary of G-B to explain why the youth leader was tortured and kept in jail. Chairman of the committee, Senator Afrasiab Khattak reprimanded the chief secretary when he termed Jan as an anti-state activist, saying “he has heard a lot of these allegations and had been himself a victim of this kind of treatment.”

Progressive parties, student and youth organisations as well as human rights bodies, including Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, campaigned for the release of the 32-year-old activist who has become a symbol of struggle in G-B.

The story of Jan and his comrades once again came to the limelight in national media in July after they were shifted from their prison cell to another prison after being tortured.

Rallies were held in foreign countries including Indonesia, France, Switzerland and Australia demanding the immediate release of Jan. Prominent intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali also endorsed the campaign by signing a petition. In G-B, the youth consider him as their ‘Che Guevara’.*Additional input by News Desk

Source: The Express Tribune


Baba Jan’s message to all supporters

September 17, 2012

On his release from jail today, Baba Jan asked Comrade Abdul Jalal to convey the following message to all supporters:

1. He wishes to thank all those who have participated in the campaign to secure his release and that of his fellow detained comrades – whether someone signed a petition, wrote a letter, an article, organised or attended a demonstration, a sit-in or a teach-in.

2. We are all learning to campaign more effectively for common causes and this experience will help us in our struggles in the future.

Baba Jan’s supporters in Gilgit-Baltistan have organised a rally from Gilgit City to Aliabad in Hunza Valley, his native region. The rally starts at 12 noon from Col. Hassan Market, Gilgit City.

Baba Jan walks free – images from outside Jutial sub-jail, Gilgit City

September 17, 2012

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September 17, 2012
Baba Jan stepping out of Jutial sub-jail 17-Sep-2012

Finally, after one year and nine days, Baba Jan, organiser of Progressive Youth Front Ggilgit-Baltistan, federal youth secretary of Labour Party Pakistan, walked free from Jutial sub-jail, Gilgit City.

Congratulations to all the supporters of the campaign for the release of the Hunza Five and securing justice for the affectees of the Attabad Lake disaster.

Now, comrades Ameer Khan and Iftikhar Hussain remain in jail. The bail hearing for Ameer Khan is scheduled for September 20, 2012. The legal team defending the Hunza Five will also re-submit the bail application for Iftikhar Hussain, which was rejected last year by the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Court.

The achievement of this crucial milestone takes us one step closer to our goals:
1. Dropping of all charges against the Hunza Five
2. Publication of the GB government’s own public enquiry into the Aliabad Tragedy of August 11, 2012
3. Prosecution of the civil administration and police of Aliabad involved in the murder by the police in broad daylight of unarmed protesters Sher Afzal Baig and his father Sher Ullah Baig.

Let us also recall that the local administration did not hesitate to use one final cheap trick to detain Baba Jan for an extra 48 hours after the Gilgit-Baltistan Anti-Terrorism Court finally accepted the bail petition on Friday, September 14, 2012. When Baba Jan’s lawyers went to Jutial sub-jail from the court to complete the paperwork for his physical release, the jail officials claimed that the file with the previous release orders (Baba Jan was granted once before on June 26, 2012, before fresh charges were brought against) could not be found.

A big vote of appreciation for the legal team who have pursued the cases of the Hunza Five on pro-bono basis for more than a year and whose legal acumen and experience of dealing with our colonial judicial system has finally started to bear fruit.

The anticapitalist left in Switzerland lauches a campaign for the release of Baba Jan

August 26, 2012

Pakistan : liberté pour Baba Jan et ses camarades !

Militant de gauche au Pakistan, il est arrêté depuis plus d’un an parce qu’il soutient et organise la lutte de paysans pakistanais victimes d’un éboulement qui a causé la disparition de leurs villages. Une campagne internationale exige sa libération.

Baba Jan et ses camarades sont des leaders politiques de la région montagneuse du nord du Pakistan, le Gilgit-Baltistan, membres du Labour Party of Pakistan et du Front progressiste des jeunes dans la région. Leur histoire vous a été brièvement expliquée ici. Nous y revenons aujourd’hui parce que, durant l’été, Baba Jan et un de ses camarades, toujours emprisonnés, ont été victimes de nouveaux interrogatoires, avec tout ce que ce terme recèle d’atrocités. Et parce que la campagne internationale pour exiger leur libération est relancée.

Climat politique et climat tout court

L’histoire est donc, en résumé, la suivante. En janvier 2010, un important glissement de terrain a lieu à proximité de la rivière Hunza, le barrage naturel commençant à former un lac (aujourd’hui appelé la Lac Attabad). Au fur et à mesure que le lac gagne du terrain, les villages sont évacués, sous la menace de leur immersion. Au total, 1000 personnes sont déplacées et 25000 sont coupées de tout contact avec le reste du pays. Face à l’absence de réaction et de mesures gouvernementales, Baba Jan et plusieurs militants demandent le drainage du lac et des mesures permettant de décloisonner la zone. Mais rien n’est fait. Le lac est aujourd’hui une réalité «topographique» de la région. Pour faire taire la contestation, le gouvernement promet des indemnisations. Or ces indemnisations n’arrivent pour la plupart jamais à leurs destinataires; les seules familles qui les aient effectivement perçues sont les familles réputées proches du Pakistan People’s Patry: c’est le parti au pouvoir au Pakistan, comme vous l’aviez compris…

Plusieurs manifestations et protestations sont organisées. Au cours de l’une d’elles, le 11 août 2011, deux manifestants (un jeune homme et son père) sont tués par la police. Des enquêtes sont exigées par les protestataires, pour élucider les circonstances de ces assassinats. La réponse du gouvernement est directe: il fait arrêter et emprisonner de nombreux militants et protestataires. Depuis, tout au long de ces derniers mois et sous la pression de campagnes de solidarité, la plupart ont été libérés.

L’accusation est simple: ces militants se seraient rendus coupables de violations de la loi pakistanaise sur le terrorisme. Une accusation pratique et facile à formuler; puisqu’aucun procès n’a eu lieu à ce jour, il n’est pas nécessaire de développer outre mesure et de préciser les véritables chefs d’inculpation.

Nouveaux interrogatoires, nouvelles pressions

Durant l’été, à nouveau, les services spéciaux du régime ont enlevé Baba Jan de sa prison pour «l’interroger». Ils ont notamment exigé de lui qu’il adhère à l’un des partis officiels au pouvoir pour être libéré. Ce qui montre sa notoriété et son importance dans la lutte pour les droits des opprimés au Pakistan et dans cette région particulière du pays, le Gilgit-Baltistan faisant juridiquement partie des territoires du Cachemire disputés avec l’Inde alors qu’elle est gérée de fait par le Pakistan. Baba Jan a refusé. La campagne de solidarité pour exiger sa libération et pour l’indemnisation des familles victimes de l’éboulement de janvier 2010 est donc d’autant plus importante à soutenir aujourd’hui.

Ecrire et pétitionner pour leur libération

Vous n’entendrez parler de Baba Jan, de ses camarades et de leur lutte au Pakistan ni sur les ondes de la Première, ni dans le 19:30 de Darius Rochebin, encore moins dans votre presse quotidienne, bien trop occupée à vous donner des conseils pour résister à quelques jours de grande chaleur. Vous trouverez par contre le matériel pour exiger la libération de Baba Jan et soutenir nos camarades du Labour Party of Pakistan emprisonnés sur Internet. La pétition, déjà signée notamment par Tariq Ali et Noam Chomsky, est disponible en ligne en suivant ce lien. Toute contribution à la campagne pour la libération de ces militants peut être faite et/ou annoncée sur le site de la campagne internationale ou en contactant la Gauche anticapitaliste, qui transmettra.

Source: L’Anticapitaliste

Resistance of the Hunza Five

August 5, 2012

By Amanullah Kariapper

The tenacious struggle of young activists for Attabad Lake affectees has de-legitimised the conspirators

In January 2010, global climate change manifested itself in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in the form of a massive landslide that blocked the Hunza River in Gojal valley and created the Attabad Lake. As village after village was submerged, more than a thousand residents of the valley were displaced and over 25,000 people were cut off from the rest of the country as the waters swallowed up the Karakoram Highway. The plight of the Gojalis was ignored.

Baba Jan, an activist of Progressive Youth Front (PYF), toured the country lobbying for the government to drain the lake and create transport facilities for the affected. The government acted too late and the lake is now a permanent feature of the area.

On August 11, 2011, around 200 people protested for the rights of the affected families to receive compensation as the Chief Minister of GB was visiting Aliabad. The police, instructed to remove the protesters by any means, opened fire on the crowd. Their first victim was Sher 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 in indignation and a police station was burnt down by the protesters.

Baba Jan organised numerous protests to demand 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 were later released on bail, Baba Jan and four other activists, Iftikhar Hussain, Amir Ali, Rashid Minhas and Ameer Khan, known as the Hunza Five, remained behind bars. Twice they have been picked up from jail and tortured. Baba Jan was beaten with sticks, had his feet crushed under boots, two fingers broken and was denied medical treatment, while Iftikhar Hussain had molten wax dropped on his genitals. The purpose was to extract confessions from the detainees, since the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) admits confessions as evidence.

During an interrogation, the activists were also asked to stop struggling for the rights of the oppressed and join any one of the mainstream parties, the PPP, the PML-N or the MQM!

Meanwhile, a judicial inquiry into the Aliabad Tragedy was conducted. Journalists who have seen it claim it lays the blame on the police force and local bureaucracy for the incident. The findings of the inquiry have, however, been suppressed.

The campaign against this series of injustices took on first a national and then an international dimension. Talks, seminars, protests and a hunger-strike camp were organised across the country and then, as news spread via social media networks to sympathisers abroad, protests were held in Tokyo, Colombo, Jakarta, Melbourne, Frankfurt, Paris and Manila. Human rights organisations also started to take up the issue and the HRCP issued a strong statement of concern while the Pakistani Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Rights demanded explanations from the GB authorities.

On June 26, 2012, the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court was about to accept the bail appeal of Baba Jan, when new charges were filed against him under the ATA. These charges relate to the incident of rioting in Gilgit Jail that happened on April 26, 2012, i.e., two months prior to the filing of these fresh charges!

On July 2, 2012, their legal defence team managed to secure the release on bail of two of the Hunza Five, Amir Ali and Rashid Minhas. On July 23 and on July 29, massive public meetings were held in Nasirabad (Hunza valley) where participants resolved to step up their campaign for justice within GB.

The vested interests of the ruling clique of GB and those of the federal government have succeeded in making a mockery of justice and due process, so that people of conscience who support the oppressed are persecuted as terrorists while policemen who kill unarmed protestors receive official protection and promotions. In this whole process, the draconian ATA has empowered the corrupt elite to deny the detainees their basic rights simply on the strength of unsubstantiated accusations of terrorism.

Rights activists across the country question the very basis of the ATA that assumes the guilt of the accused — in stark contrast to established norms of due process and the basic rights of a citizen. In this, they find themselves in a situation similar to that of the six members of the Labour Qaumi Movement, sentenced to 99 years each by an Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad, for organising a strike in June 2010.

Under the GB Empowerment & Self-Governance Order 2009, judges are appointed to local courts on a three-year contract, with extensions dependent on performance. Given the interminable series of hearing postponements and the impunity with which state agents have repeatedly tortured the PYF activists, the parameters for their “performance appraisals” are open to some scathing criticism.

The powerful intelligence agencies who have been supporting sectarian elements and various defunct jihadi outfits want to eliminate Baba Jan because he is the only leader in the region who has persistently tried to bring the people of various communities living in GB to jointly struggle for their social and political rights. Baba Jan is a major hurdle in the way of these agencies who want to keep the population of GB divided on sectarian lines in order to secure the unaccountable power they need to pursue their regional geo-political agenda.

Local members of the PPP also consider Baba Jan and the PYF to be a potent threat to their new-found authority, as he has become a folk hero, especially among the youth of the entire region. Local members of all the mainstream parties have approached Baba Jan with offers of pardon and high privilege, if only he apologized to the authorities for his stubborn resistance — and joined their party.

The tenacious struggle of these young activists has de-legitimised the conspirators in the eyes of the people of the region, who are now shrugging off their fear and preparing to struggle against the oppressive forces that seek to enslave them.


Source: The News on Sunday

Baba Jan’s detention may be lawful but it is not right

August 3, 2012

Baba Jan two more youth activists are detained in G-B jail for almost a year now; two others were only recently released on bail. PHOTO: FILE

One should read the story of Baba Jan Hunzai, if they’re still wary of claims that public administration in Pakistan, particularly away from Punjab and urban Sindh, is colonial in nature.

Baba Jan is a rights activist and leader of the Progressive Youth Front (PYF). He and two more youth activists are detained in Gilgit-Baltistan jail for almost a year now; two others were only recently released on bail. Their crime is agitation against the police for killings of a man and his son at a demonstration in August 2011. This was to demand due compensation for the affected families of massive landslides in 2010 that led to the formation of an artificial lake, now known as Attabad lake, in what used to be a settled area. A judicial inquiry had held the G-B police responsible for the two killings.

There has to be something very wrong with the law if it treats agitation for rights by citizens as a crime and equates activists to terrorists (Baba Jan and four other activists are charged for terrorism). To top that, the police have been extending judicial remand of the Hunza activists to date, since their arrest in September 2011 – denying them their right to a free and fair trial.

The idea of rule of law has been central to recent discourse on high politics and clash of state institutions in the country. Multitudes of bar associations, press clubs and traders’ bodies that were on the vanguard of what came to be known as the lawyers’ movement will have one believe that rule of law is a desired state-of-affairs.

In theory, rule of law is, indeed, central to the functioning of a democratic society. In practice, however, rule of law becomes problematic when law is used to discriminate between citizens on the basis of their ethnicity, occupation, religion or position within the federation. Such a law, then, is only a tool for the ruling establishment to maintain ‘public order’ as they define it.

Baba Jan and other activists detained in G-B will, therefore, beg to differ from those praising the virtues of rule of law in Pakistan. For them, and for most people who’ve dared to challenge Islamabad’s hegemony, rule of law has been a ‘dawn sans light’, to quote from Jalib’s idiom.

The demands for rights by industrial workers and landless peasants of Punjab have also been suppressed in the name of rule of law. Like the Hunza activists, powerloom workers of Faisalabad and tenant farmers of Dera Saigol farms in Muridke or Kulyana Estate in Okara have also been charged with the Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, for demanding fair wage and property rights to the lands they till, respectively.

The rule of law, however, has yet to restrain the likes of Malik Ishaq, and his Lashkar Jhangvi, from his ill-designs against a particular sectarian minority. The High Court of Lahore recently set him free, effectively sending out a message that the state considers Ishaq, who carries 70 murder charges, less of a problem to public order than rights activists and labour and peasant leaders.

People like Ishaq are just the tip of the iceberg of those on the right side of rule of law in Pakistan. The iceberg contains anyone with clout or bucks to manipulate the law; for Hunza activists, it is Islamabad’s colonial administration of G-B; for Faisalabad labourers it is owners of power looms and for peasants of Dera Saigol and Kulyana Estate, it is the influential Saigol family and the Pakistan Army.

For the most part, legal maxims like rule of law and maintenance of public order in Pakistan have benefited specific groups and interests. Their virtues have yet to trickle down to those on the receiving end of high politics, like Hunza activists. And if history serves any purpose, Baba Jan and other rights activists’ detention maybe lawful but it cannot be right, because as the saying goes, when tyranny becomes law, rebellion is a duty.

Read more by Umair here or follow him on Twitter @umairrasheed1

Source: The Express Tribune Blogs, Baba Jan’s detention may be lawful but it is not right