Pakistan: Baba Jan sentenced to life, barred from Gilgit-Baltistan by-election

June 15, 2016

Protest against sentencing of Baba Jan at his native village, Nasirabad, in Hunza on June 12. Photo: Awami Workers Party.

A bench of the appellate Supreme Court of Gilgit-Baltistan on June 7 upheld the decision of the anti-terrorist court (ATC) to sentence Gilgit-Baltistan leader of the left-wing Awami Workers Party (AWP), Baba Jan, to life imprisonment. Sentences were also confirmed on 11 other political activists from Hunza.

Baba Jan who was contesting from jail a by-election for a seat in the assembly of the Pakistani-administered Himalayan territory of Gilgit-Baltistan may now be disqualified based on this disputed and politically influenced court decision.

Journalists, political analysts, human right activists and other supporters of Baba Jan consider the court's decision a murder of justice.

Earlier the AWP won a decision in the Chief Court of Gilgit-Baltistan against the returning officer's decision rejecting Baba Jan's nomination for the by-election, which was scheduled to be held on May 28. The Chief Court remarked that since Baba Jan was appealing against the ATC's sentence of life imprisonment, he could not be considered a convict.

However Baba Jan's nomination papers were challenged in the appellate Supreme Court of Gilgit-Baltistan by Zafar Iqbal, a former candidate of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The appellate Supreme Court postponed the by-election on May 25, saying that unless the suppressed aspects of Baba Jan's case are unveiled, the decision on his nomination papers cannot be made. Recently on June 9, the appellate Supreme Court of Gilgit-Baltistan upheld the decision of ATC.

Both appellate Supreme Court's decisions, postponement of by election and upholding of ATC decision, are a direct and brutal political victimisation of Baba Jan through state machinery by his political opponents – the ruling government of PMLN and other mainstream political parties, such as the PPP.

The other political activists, who each got 40 year jail sentences, include Shukurullah Baig, Iftikhar Hussain, Aleem, Irfan Ali, Sarfraz, Rasheed, Sher Khan and Musa. Their only crime was to raise their voices for the compensation by Pakistan for people of the Hunza valley in 2010 after devastating landslides that followed flooding caused by climate change.

The AWP has announced a country wide mass movement for the release of Baba Jan and other political prisoners. They further demand that the judicial commission's inquiry report of the Ali Abad disaster should be made public. They are aiming to launch peaceful protests at every possible forum against this biased court's decision.

A review petition against court's decision will be submitted by the AWP.

The court's decision will seriously shake people's trust of the higher judiciary of the country.

The major threat to mainstream political parties and the establishment is that if Baba Jan wins a seat in assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan, he may lead huge resistance to the Pakistan China Economic Corridor project. The local people of Gilgit-Baltistan are most likely to be left out of the gains of the project.

Considering that constitutionally Gilgit-Baltistan is not part of Pakistan – and is also claimed by India – the rising distrust of the Gilgit-Baltistan people of Pakistani state institutions could, in the long run, have serious impacts on the geopolitical situation of the region.

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