Thanks to an international campaign, climate activist Baba Jan and three fellow political prisoners were finally freed on November 28, writes Susan Price.
The sit-ins demanding the release of 14 political prisoners and justice for the victims of police brutality, in early October in Gilgit-Baltistan, have ignited a movement that crosses gender and religious divides, write Sonia Qadir and Haider Ali.
For the better part of six years, Baba Jan, a founding member and activist of the left-wing Awami Workers Party (AWP) in the Pakistani-occupied disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, has been behind bars on a life sentence for ‘terrorism’ charges. His crime? Demanding rights for Hunza’s poor and displaced.
Accused without evidence of acts that he could not have committed, since he was at the time about sixty kilometres away, Baba Jan was tortured, convicted and then acquitted on appeal. He came second in the elections in 2015 while imprisoned and was tipped to win a by-election.
Protest against sentencing of Baba Jan at his native village, Nasirabad, in Hunza on June 12. Photo: Awami Workers Party.
Jailed socialist candidate Baba Jan and supporters outside the Supreme Court at Gilgit on 22 May, before police took him back to jail.
Candidate for the socialist Awami Workers Party (AWP) Baba Jan will contest a May 28 by-election for the assembly of the Pakistani-administered Himalayan territory of Gilgit-Baltistan from his jail cell. Baba Jan has been described as a climate justice prisoner. In 2010, his home area in Hunza was devastated by climate change-fuelled floods and landslides. A protest movement developed against the misappropriation of relief funds. Police responded with brutality and protesters were killed and arrested.
On May 18, Baba Jan was declared the official candidate of the Awami Workers Party (AWP) by the returning officer of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly constituency Hunza 6. Baba Jan is in jail serving a life sentence. This is the first time in the history of the Hunza Valley that a political activist will contest general elections from jail. Gilgit-Baltistan is a Himalayan territory administered by Pakistan.