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Lahore: Protest Held for Release of Political Prisoners of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

January 1, 2020

The family members of Comrade Baba Jan and several other activists, answered the Free Baba Jan Committee’s call to hold a protest at the Lahore Press Club on Sunday 29th December, 2019. The demonstration aimed to bring attention towards the delaying of the right to fair trial by consistent postponing of appeal hearings in relation to the decision taken on 5th September, 2014 to impose life-imprisonment on the 14 young men hailing, by an Anti-terrorism Court in Gilgit city.

One of the other issues that this protest aimed to highlight was that of the inhumane treatment of political prisoners in the form of physical & mental torture, deprivation from medical facilities and lack of other facilities like heating-making the survival of the prisoners difficult.

It goes without saying that the most highly asserted and fundamental demand of the protest was the immediate release of the GB14.

Moreover, it was also demanded that the report of the judicial commission assigned to this case be made public as the people have the right to know, especially, the families affected by this case including that of the 22-year old Afzal Baig and his father Sher Ullah Baig who belonged to one of the Internally Displaced (IDP) families of the Attabad Disaster and were shot dead in broad-daylight. Those attending the protest expressed their rage at the non-deliverance of justice to the aforementioned victims.

Protesters including two sisters of Comrade Baba Jan and young activists living in Lahore, chanted slogans urging the authorities to release GB14 immediately.

At around 3 PM on 29th December, 2019, a protest was held at the Lahore Press Club, demanding that the 14 political prisoners of Gilgit-Baltistan, also known as GB14, be released immediately. A nephew and two sisters of Comrade Baba Jan, Comrade Jia and Comrade Nazneen-a prominent female activist who had led her brother’s election campaign back in 2014,- immensely increased the importance of the demonstration through their presence and their flaring speeches.

Are the 14 political prisoners of Gilgit-Baltistan terrorists or heroes?

Comrade Jia declared, while speaking at the protest, that her brother and 13 other prisoners of Hunza Riots case of 2011, did not commit any act that could be called terrorism. She further added, “the 14 young activists had only raised their voice for the victims of the Attabad Disaster and demanded justice for Afzal Baig and his father Sher Ullah Baig.” Afzal Baig and his father were shot dead during a peaceful protest on 11 August, 2011 in Aliabad town of Hunza, by the police. Videos of the killings have been shared several times on social media. 

In January 2010, a mountain-side collapsed into the Hunza River and created what is now known the Attabad Lake. As the lake formed, village after village was submerged. In total, over 1000 people were displaced and over 25,000 were cut off from the rest of the country (the lake had destroyed the one road that connected the area to Pakistan).

The Attabad Lake formed through one of the worst natural disasters faced by the community of the Hunza region in recent memory. It is now a famous touristic attraction.

The plight of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan was ignored. Baba Jan, toured the country lobbying for the government to drain the lake and create transport facilities for the affected. The Pakistan People’s Party government acted too late. The lake is now a permanent feature of the area. To offset the protests of the displaced, the government promised monetary compensation to the affected people and support in their resettlement.

However, for many, compensation never arrived. An official list of those who were to receive compensation named 457 families. Over a hundred of these families did not receive their compensation, until recently.

On 11th August, 2010, around 200 people, including the members of 25 families affected by the disaster, protested for the rights of the affected people to promised compensation, as the then Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, Mehdi Shah, was visiting the town of Aliabad, Hunza. The police, instructed to remove the protesters by any means, started with a baton-charge and then proceeded to use tear gas, before opening fire with live ammunition. Their first victim was Afzal Baig, a 22-year old student. When his father Sher Ullah Baig 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 organized 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 over 100 protesters including Baba Jan. While, most of those arrested were released, Baba Jan and 11 other protesters were kept in jail on-and-off for 2 years, while, two others absconded and have been able to obtain bail later. Baba Jan was granted bail in 2012, while another activist, Iftikhar Hussain’s plea for bail was denied.

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. 

Which kind of violence qualifies more as terror? Burning down empty buildings or making people kill themselves to escape experiencing or witnessing the pain and suffering awaited by the political prisoners? Who would punish the police officials who murdered a young man and his father? Security forces including those in-charge of jails, systematically violate the human rights of the prisoners who are also subjected to the most brutal forms of torture? Who would make these offenders within the law-enforcement agencies accountable?

Twice, Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain were picked up by government paramilitary forces from jail and tortured. First, starting on the 12th of September 2011, for three to four hours at a time daily for three nights, they were beaten with sticks and had their 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 fractured fingers but was denied medical treatment.

Comrade Baba Jan being transported to the Jail by a policeman.

Most of these activists were sole bread-winners for their families and loved sons, brothers, husbands, fathers and friends. Therefore, their families and those close to them are left traumatized for life and subjected to economic, emotional and psychological hardships. One of the accused activists named Fazal Karim committed suicide in 2014.

In her speech, Comrade Nazneen (another sister of Baba Jan) talked about Salman, a prisoner who has now lost his sanity due to torture, and is now under treatment at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad. A sister of one of the other prisoners facing life-imprisonment also committed suicide this year as she was not able to bear living with the knowledge that her brother was suffering unjustly in jail. 

She went on to condemn the recent torture of Minhaj, who is one of the companions of Baba Jan in jail. He was suffering from chest pain and the District Hospital in Gilgit recommended angiography, a facility that is not available in GB. Upon the government’s refusal to take him for medical treatment, he observed a hunger strike for two days. He only ended the strike when District Commissioner of Ghizer, Superintendent of Police Ghizer District, the Superintendent of Jails and other officials met him and gave him assurances.

A few days later he was told that he is being taken for treatment but was instead taken to his uncle’s funeral in Hunza. After the funeral he objected against traveling in the police van as he experienced severe chest pain and demanded that he be taken to a hospital immediately, however, the station house officer (SHO) of Hunza District beat him on the head and he dropped unconscious in the middle of the road. Fortunately, he survived and was taken to a hospital for first aid. He is now back in jail and still bereft of medical care, which is a violation of the constitutional rights of prisoners.

            Last winter, Baba Jan also reported to be suffering from chest pain. He too was denied angiography, despite nation-wide protests demanding the government to provide him his right to medical care. He has still not been able to recover fully.

Comrade Iftikhar Hussain in Jail with a book in hand. He is known to be a voracious reader, as is Comrade Baba Jan.

Amidst slogans of “Sharam Karo Haya Karo, Baba Jan ko Riha Karo” (Have some shame and release Baba Jan), Haider Ali a young activist, remarked, “the state is supposed to be the mother but wherever you look around in this country and especially in Gilgit-Baltistan, those deprived of their rights cannot assert their humanness or they are forced to shut up. It is as if we are orphans. It is exactly because Baba Jan and his companions raised their voice in this repressive atmosphere and sacrificed their freedom that they have become symbols of resistance and heroes of the down-trodden.”

Comrade Iftikhar Hussain, senuor leader of Karakoram National Movemet (KNM) and one of those facing life sentence in the Hunza Riots Case of 2011.

The cardinal sin of the young men, which resulted in this punishment: Activism? Resistance?

Baba Jan, and, Iftikhar Hussain are well-renowned community activists. Baba Jan is the former Vice President of the Awami Workers Party, the founding chairman of the Progressive Youth Front and the Chief Organizer of the Awami Workers Party Gilgit-Baltistan. In 2013, Baba Jan, was granted bail and resumed his activism. He successfully campaigned for the ‘wheat subsidy’ to be restored for Gilgit-Baltistan region in 2014.  For his efforts, his bail was withdrawn and he was sentenced to life imprisonment, along-with, 11 others. Undeterred, in summer 2015 he stood from jail to be a representative in the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly from Hunza constituency. Without funds and hindered by jail, he nonetheless, managed to gain second highest number of votes in the elections. The seat became vacant again in 2015. Baba Jan was set to run but was not allowed to. His strong showing had scared the Government of Pakistan and the election was delayed multiple times on various pretexts until Baba Jan was convicted and became automatically ineligible to run.

Comrade Baba Jan leading a march in Hunza, accompanied by activist and intellectual Ejaz Karim.

While, most people who learn of the plight of the GB14, rush to support them, there seem to be a few others who realize the truth but have decided to compromise.

Several intellectuals including Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur and Aziz Ali Dad have signed petitions appealing for Baba Jan’s release. In the last 8 years numerous protests have been held for the prisoners’ freedom, throughout the country and in many countries worldwide.

The President of Pakistan Arif Alvi and former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar met Baba Jan’s family on separate occasions. Referring to this, Nazneen asked: “Both the President of Pakistan and the former Chief Justice agreed that Baba Jan should be released. What hidden forces are keeping him behind bars?” 

A Portrait of Comrade Baba Jan, sketched by Shahid Akhtar Qalandari , a renowned musician and artist, of Hunza. This portrait was drawn and shared on social media, to show solidarity and support when Comrade Baba Jan was suffering from chest pain but the government refused provision of angiography and other appropriate treatment, last year.

Nazneen appealed to the media saying, “You go on and on about the beauty of Hunza and Gilgit-Baltistan. Therefore, it is your responsibility to also make everyone aware about our problems”.

Demands for life, safety, justice, an end to the use of violence against helpless inmates and safeguarding the constitutional rights of prisoners.

The protesters called on the Government of Pakistan to: publish the findings of the judicial inquiry into the killings of Afzal Baig and Sher Ullah Baig, bring to justice those who are responsible for the police violence and provide humane treatment in prison through provision of constitutional and fundamental rights including heating facilities, medical facilities and visitation rights. They demanded, above all, that the sentence be abrogated and asserted. According to one of the student activists present at the protest, said, “it is contrary to all concepts of justice that murderers be promoted into higher stations within the police force, judicial reports be kept secret from families of the victims and community leaders be imprisoned for life without fair trial.” 

These activists who had come to express their solidarity with the GB 14, also appealed to activists locally and internationally to protest the decision of the court, which is punishing innocent citizens and letting the police go free. They said that Baba Jan and the other activists are being made an example of to keep the people of Gilgit-Baltistan from protesting for their political and human rights. 

At the end of the protest, solidarity was professed yet again through slogans of “Aseeran ka haq hy, Azadi” and “Teri Jaan Meri Jaan, Baba Jan Baba Jan”.

Protestors chanting a slogan expressing solidarity and love with Comrade Baba Jan and his fellows behind bars.

The Free Baba Jan Committee is a group of activists dedicated to raising voice for Baba Jan and other activists imprisoned in the Hunza Riots Case of Aliabad, Hunza, 2011.

It is hoped that other activists and comrades in other areas of Pakistan and throughout the world will join hands to raise their voice for the freedom of Baba Jan and 13 other companions. If they go unchallenged, the police and other authorities will continue targeting Comrade Baba Jan, Comrade Iftikhar, Comrade Aleemullah Khan and their companions through unimaginable cruelty. If such state policies go unchallenged, then any one of us could be subjected to the same treatment by the repressive regime. In an atmosphere such as the one we are faced with, where the greatest deed of selflessness and service may be the greatest act of resistance for the state, the GB14 teach us to be courageous and undeterred in the face of oppression. 

#FreeBabaJan #FreeIftikharHussain

#FreeGB14 #FreePoliticalPrisonersOfGB

Contact the author at @fairyworshipper and justanotherlocal@gmail.com

Protest at Lahore Press Club by Free Baba Jan Committee

January 20, 2020

Activists and students protest to demand release of 14 Political Prisoners of Hunza Riots Case of 2011. Protest will be held every two weeks.

Young activists and students protesting in-front of Lahore Press Club on 19 January, 2020.

On Sunday 19 January, 2019, young activists and students heeded the Free Baba Jan Committee’s call to protest at the Lahore Press Club. They demanded the release of Comrade Baba Jan, Comrade Iftikhar Hussain and 12 other political prisoners who have been sentenced to life imprisonment. The verdict was given by an Anti-Terrorism Court back in 2016 but the prisoners have been behind bars since 2011. In the 9 years of incarceration they have been subjected to physical and psychological torture and have been denied their rights on several occasions.

Poster highlighting Comrade Baba Jan as an icon of Resistance

Please read the preceding post(s) to know more about the case and about the current conditions of the prisoners.

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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Free!

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