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Cafe Bol hosts a discussion on political prisoners in Pakistan

February 1, 2012

By Cindy Zahnd

Baba Jan

The theme of the discussion last weekend at Café Bol in Lahore’s Main Market was ‘Political prisoners in Pakistan’. Over 40 people, most of them university students, attended the event.

Farooq Tariq, spokesperson of the Labour Party Pakistan, introduced the discussion by saying that 14 members and supporters of his party are now in jail because of their political engagement, five of them in Gilgit and nine in Faisalabad. He explained that in Gilgit, Baba Jan – a well-known activist, leader of the Labour Party and of its youth wing, the Progressive Youth Front – has been detained with four of his comrades for over five months now. Tariq said their crime was to support the victims of the Attabad lake disaster that affected about 25,000 people in Hunza valley in 2010. In the summer 2011, while the victims of the disaster were peacefully protesting against corruption in the government’s financial compensation scheme, a policeman fired at the crowd, killing a young man and his father. The population of the valley rose up against this heinous act and instead of punishing the police assassin, the state responded by arresting protesters by the dozen. All of them were eventually released except for five, all of them members of the Labour Party who are now being accused of terrorism. Farooq Tariq then went on to explain that in Faisalabad, nine power-loom workers are in jail, six of them having recently been convicted on terrorism charges and have been sentenced to 99 years of imprisonment each. All of them are members of the Labour Qaumi Movement that organised a strike in 2010 for the implementation of the 17% wage increase announced by the government. According to Farooq Tariq, fake FIRs were registered against them a few days after the strike by the owners of a factory and they were charged with terrorism. Their appeal is now being filed in the Lahore High Court.

Mian Qayyum, chaiman of the Labour Qaumi movement, then talked about the history of the movement, their struggle for the power-loom workers, and shared his personal experience. He tells: ‘I was a supporter of Jamaat-e-Islami and even got trained in Afghanistan with them. One day, I made a list of over 40 members of the Jamaat who were factory owners and called for a meeting with all of them. I had a very naive suggestion for them: what if they started treating the workers in their factories better? That would grant us a lot of support wouldn’t it? Their outrage at my suggestions made me understand their true nature.’ Later on, another event would lead to another turning point in his life. He was working in a power-loom factory when one day he saw a worker being beaten up by some police officers. A crowd of workers were gathered around them, powerless. Mian Qayyum jumped at the police officers in defense of the worker and his act gave the other workers the courage to intervene and save their colleague from the police. It turned out that the owner of the factory he worked in had called the police to arrest him because he had left work two hours before time the previous day to attend a funeral. That day Mian Qayyum gained the trust and the admiration of hundreds. The workers started coming to him to talk about their issues and that is how the Labour Qaumi Movement was born. Today, 14 activists are working full-time for the movement, their salaries paid by the contributions of the members. Last November, they organised a jalsa in support for their colleagues in jail that was attended by over 5,000. Mian Qayyum ended by inviting the audience to support their struggle and to help them put pressure on the government to secure the release of the workers.

A friend of Baba Jan then spoke in his name. He provided a detailed account of the struggle for socio-economic justice, exposing the government’s false claims of granting autonomy to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and explaining its interest in suppressing any growth in political consciousness among the people. Answering a question, he talked about the deplorable conditions in which Baba Jan and his comrades are detained without heating in the freezing weather. He also talked about the methods of torture used by the state in its failed attempts to obtain false confessions from him and his comrades. But his tone was positive and his words inspiring when he talked about their struggle against what he terms Pakistan’s colonial rule. He explained how since he was jailed, Baba Jan has become an idol for the youth of Gilgit-Baltistan and he is being compared with Bhagat Singh, the revolutionary freedom fighter.

He concluded the discussion with a message to the youth saying it was their responsibility to play their role in bringing about the required revolutionary changes in society and cited Baba Jan saying: ‘We all need to look beyond our own personal needs if we wish to establish a just and dignified society for future generations.

 

Source: Himal Southasian

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