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Radio ABC Australia: Pakistani activists targetted, after advocating for flood victims

July 23, 2012

Pakistani rights groups are calling on the federal government to intervene in the case of two activists, who were arrested after complaining of corruption in the distribution of flood aid.

Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain had been detained for nine months by local authorities in the Hunza Valley, in Pakistan’s north, after advocating on behalf of farmers and leading a public protest. Both men were incarcerated under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

About one-fifth of Pakistan was flooded in 2010, after extreme monsoonal rains.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Farooq Tariq, national spokesman and federal executive committee member, Labour Party of Pakistan

FAROOQ TARIQ: Baba Jan was the first one to raise that issue, not only in Gilgit, he’d travelled to Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, organised public rallies and meetings, press conferences and then the government and the media came. They were interested and they did something. In the meantime, the government announced compensation for the victims of those who were affected by this disaster. What happened was that the Pakistan People’s Party did not give compensation to all of the victims. Then the victims protested, within a year of this incident – last year in August – there were police firing,and two people were killed – son and father were killed in a demonstration.

LAM: The great floods of 2010 in Pakistan generated much public concern globally, and that resulted in over 500-million dollars of foreign aid. Did Baba Jan and his colleagues allege that very little of this money reached the poor, largely due to corruption?

FAROOQ TARIQ: This was the main issue – that the Pakistan People’s Party did not give the due funds to all the victims of this natural disaster. They (the PPP) wanted to give it (the money) to some of their own activists of PPP who were not affected. And Baba Jan protested against this malpractice and corruption by the PPP government in Gilgit-Baltistan, and that’s how he was victimised. There were over a hundred people arrested at that time, it was last year in August, 2011. But Baba Jan and Iftikhar were the prominent leaders of this movement. The government kept six of them for nearly nine months. So last month, two were released from the Hunza Five, so there remained three in jail. And now, Baba Jan is being framed in another ‘anti-terrorist Act’. He’s a political activist, he’s not a terrorist. He just led a movement for compensation for the victims of this natural disaster. But now he’s been charged with the Anti-TErrorist Act. Terrorists, religious fundamentalists get freed from the courts – they’re not arrested when they should be arrested – but political activists are victimised under these laws.

LAM: I understand that Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain were both taken away by a Joint-Investigative Team, the JIT, which included members of the police force. Is it true that now you don’t know their whereabouts?

FAROOQ TARIQ: No, we finally got to know where they are – they’re with the military intelligence, at this time in Gilgit and our friends spent the whole night outside that investigation centre, where Baba Jan and Iftikhar were tortured. But initially, no one knew where they were – they were just picked up, abducted from jail, despite the protests of the prisoners.

Now, Baba Jan has tried to harmonise the religious factions within the jail as well, the Shi’ites and the Sunnis, and he was quite a popular political prisoner inside the jail. So when they tried to take him away, the prisoners protested, but they still took him. Yesterday, we came to know that he is in the physical remand of the JIT (Joint Investigation Team) which includes military intelligence, the Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI, and also the police intelligence agency. No one has been allowed to see them so far. We only know that they are kept now at a police investigation centre outside the jail, and that means alot of torture too, to both of them. But we’re happy we at least found where they are, because the fear is that Baba Jan might be killed by the ISI, or by MI (military intelligence). That is our real fear. And many in Pakistan have protested including us, and today there is a hunger strike camp in the Hunza Valley, where Baba Jan belonged to, fearing for the lives of Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain. And then there was a big complain all over Pakistan and internationally, the police were not giving them the medical treatment. It was only the court in Gilgit, which took Baba Jan to hospital, after twelve days, his hand was fractured because of police torture. The issue is that Baba Jan has become a political threat to the government of Gilgit-Baltistan. They want to keep him in jail, and this latest case against him was a last-minute effort to keep him in jail, because the Supreme Court of Gilgit-Balitistan had attracted the bail application of Baba Jan, after nine months.

LAM: So the issue of Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain has come to national attention in Pakistan. Has there been any response from the federal government?

FAROOQ TARIQ: The Human Rights ministry of the government of Pakistan also protested to Gilgit-Baltistan government, why are they treating Baba Jan and his friends like this? So has the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, but officially, we have not heard from the government of Pakistan about their position. And we have gone to the courts, and we know that the police is not implementing the actions of the court and the paeans of the court.


Source: ABC Radio Australia

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