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Pakistan: Urgent action needed to stop torture of activists

STOP PRESS, July 25, 2012 -- Thanks to all who sent protest messages and got the word out quick. Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain have now been returned to jail after being interrogated and roughed up by the special interrogation team. But we we still must demand: Free Baba Jan and Free the Hunza Five! -- Peter Boyle

By Peter Boyle, Socialist Alliance (Australia) national co-convener

July 23, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- A leading Pakistan newspaper, Dawn, reports that Labour Party Pakistan comrades Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain are being tortured by special "anti-terrorist police" unit in an undisclosed location now:

Baba Jan and four comrades — all members of the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) and the Progressive Youth Front (PYF) — have been imprisoned since September last year for standing up for the rights of his people from the Hunza Valley, in the remote province of Gilgit-Baltistan, after their villages and farmlands were flooded in 2010. Collectively they have come to be known as the Hunza Five.

They are among the growing number of those who could be termed “political prisoners of the global climate crisis”.

In 2010, one fifth of Pakistan was flooded after extremely heavy monsoonal rains. Two thousand people died as a result of this extreme weather event and 20 million people suffered displacement and/or destruction of property, livelihood and infrastructure.

They were arrested for leading protests of victims of devastating flooding who had been cheated of compensation and assistance by corrupt officials. The Hunza Five have been assaulted, tortured and denied their rigts (including visiting rights and medical treatment) during their imprisonment.

There has been an international campaign of solidarity and here in Australia and we organised for numerous letters of protest and concern to be sent the Pakistani government. This campaign force the government to allow Baba Jan and his comrades visits and some medical treatment – which they had been previously denied.

Then, last month, there was word that they were finally about to be granted bail – nine months after they were arrested!

But when Baba Jan’s lawyer went to the magistrate with the bail application the public prosecutor said that the magistrate was not allowed hear this case the police has now inserted new charges under draconian anti-terrorist laws and so his case could be heard only by a special anti-terrorist court.

On July 19, the Joint Investigation Team, consisting of police and intelligence officials, came to Jutial Jail, Gilgit, where Baba Jan is being held, in order to take him into their custody.

Fearing that the team had not actually obtained judicial remand from the Anti-Terrorist Court, which would authorise them to take custody of Baba Jan, and further, fearing that the intention would be torture – either as a last-ditch attempt to extract a confession from Baba Jan or as a vindictive expression of their frustration at not being able to break him so far – ordinary prisoners rose up in solidarity with Baba Jan and resisted the attempts of the team to shift Baba Jan out of the prison.

The JIT was turned away on July 19 but they returned the following night of July 20 and Baba Jan and one of his comrades Iftikhar Hussain were removed from Gilgit jail by JIT personnel and taken to an unknown location.

Baba Jan’s lawyers and comrades did all they could to resist any move to hand over custody of Baba Jan to the police or the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and demanded that Baba Jan be questioned by the JIT in Jutial Jail. His supporters, especially his family, are said to be extremely worried that giving physical custody of Baba Jan to the crime police or the JIT will inevitably lead to further torture. Given the two previous instances, in October 2011 and April/May 2012, and the fact that the Anti-Terrorism Act admits confessions of the accused as evidence and that torture is an accepted means of “investigation” in our law enforcement paradigm, this is a well-founded fear.

The Joint Investigation Team is composed of police and intelligence agents and that it was representatives of the same establishments that abducted and tortured Baba Jan and his comrades in violation of judicial remand.

LPP and PYF comrades in Gilgit are unanimous in their assessment that now that the ruling clique of the region know that their attempts to manipulate the judicial system to pressurise the Hunza Five have almost failed, they are extremely fearful about what will happen when they are at liberty, free to talk of their experiences and expose the reality of the collaborationist, anti-people elite to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

See open letter signed by Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky and others here:

Please act urgently to show your solidarity to these brave political prisoners of the global climate change crisis.

* * *

Please send an urgent letter of protest to (and Pakistan embassies and consulates in your own countries):

Mr. Asif Ali Zardari
President of Pakistan
President’s Secretariat
Fax: +92 51 9207458

(Copies to)

Hon. Prime Minister of Pakistan
Prime Minister House

Hon. Rehman Malik
Minister for Interior
R Block Pak Secretariat
Fax: +92 51 9202624

Ministry of Human Rights
NAB Building
Ata-Turk Avenue
G-5/2, Islamabad
Fax: +9251-9204108

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