Pakistan: 'Anti-terrorism' court jails left-wing activists for peaceful protest

September 23, 2013
Rally to demanding justice for displaced Hunza Valley villagers.

A terrible disaster unfolded in 2010 in the Hunza Valley in Gilgit Baltistan (a formerly self-governing territory occupied by Pakistan since 1948). For protesting for people's rights in the aftermath of this disaster, three left-wing activists have been sentenced to 10 years jail.

In July 2010, a huge landslide blocked the Hunza River and formed a gigantic 19 kilometre-wide lake, which submerged four villages. About 25 people lost their lives and 6000 people were displaced.

These internally displaced people (IDPs) were moved to the towns of Gilgit and Hunza. The Pakistani PM and other officials visited the IDPs in Hunza and promised compensation.

More than a year later, people took to the streets in protest for not getting the promised compensation. The police killed a man and his son in broad daylight by opening fire on the peaceful protest. A riot followed.

In the riot, 25 demonstrators were injured. When Progressive Youth Front leader Baba Jan and his comrades protested against this brutality, they were arrested.

Most of those arrested were released soon after, but Baba Jan and four others were kept by police. They were tortured and brutally beaten.

An international solidarity campaign helped secure Baba Jan's release after a year in detention, but his four comrades were kept in jail.

On September 16, three of them ― Riaz Kareem, Shams Uddin and Muhammad Ali ― were sentenced to 10 years in jail by a notorious “anti-terrorism” court in Gilgit.

The only crime of these three men was to ask for justice for the innocent father and son killed by police in the August 2011 protests ― martyrs who were given death instead of the compensation. Their crime was to demand an investigation into these police killings and for the killers to be punished.

Gilgitis don't have freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of expression. Why are protesters taken before an anti-terrorism court when the haven't spread terrorism?

This case should not have any thing to do with a terrorism court. The real act of terrorism in Gilgit Baltistan was committed by police who killed the innocent father and son. They should be punished according to the law.

I urge all progressive and democratic people around the world to condemn the sentencing of these activists to 10 years in jail and we appeal to the Pakistani government to release them.

In a report Pakistan's Express Tribune, Baba Jan demanded the judicial inquiry of the incident conducted by Justice Mumtaz Alam be made public and those responsible must be brought to justice.

[Haseeb ur Rahman is a Gilgiti activist from the Balwaristan National Student Organisation now living in Australia.]

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