Pakistan 'anti-terrorism' court jails left-wing activists for 10 years for protesting

Baba Jan addressing displaced villagers in Hunza Valley in 2010.

By Haseeb ur Rahman

September 21, 2013 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- In January 2010, a terrible disaster unfolded in the Hunza Valley in Gilgit Baltistan (a formerly self-governing territory occupied by Pakistan since 1948) when a massive landslide blocked the Hunza River and formed a gigantic 19 kilometre-wide lake that submerged four villages. Some 25 people lost their lives and 6000 people were displaced.

These internally displaced people (IDPs) were moved to the towns of Gilgit and Hunza. Pakistan's PM and other officials visited the IDPs in Hunza and promised compensation. When, 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 that riot, 25 demonstrators were injured. When Progressive Youth Front leader Baba Jan and his comrades protested against this brutality, they were also arrested. Most of those arrested were released soon after but Baba Jan along with four of his companions were kept. They were tortured and beaten up brutally.

Following an international solidarity campaign, Baba Jan was released after a year in detention but his companions were kept in jail.

On September 16, three of these comrades, Riaz Kareem, Shams Uddin and Muhammad Ali, were sentenced for 10 years' jail each 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 compensation. Their crime was to demand an investigation into these police killings and for the killers to be punished.

Gilgit Baltistan doesn't have freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of expression. Why are protesters taken before an anti-terrorism court when haven't spread terrorism? This case shouldn't have anything to do with a terrorism court. The real act of terrorism in Gilgit Baltistan has been committed by police. They should appear in a anti-terrorism court and 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 Pakistan government to release them.

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

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