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


Pakistani activists targetted, after advocating for flood victims

Updated 23 July 2012, 22:16 AEST

Pakistani rights groups are calling on the federal government to intervene in the case of two activists, who were arrested after complaining of corruption in the distribution of flood aid.

Pakistani activists targetted, after advocating for flood victims
(Credit: ABC)

Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain had been detained for nine months by local authorities in the Hunza Valley, in Pakistan's north, after advocating on behalf of farmers and leading a public protest.

Both men were incarcerated under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

About one-fifth of Pakistan was flooded in 2010, after extreme monsoonal rains.

*Presenter:* Sen Lam

*Speaker:* Farooq Tariq, national spokesman and federal executive committee member, Labour Party of Pakistan

FAROOQ TARIQ: Baba Jan was the first one to raise that issue, not only in Gilgit, he'd travelled to Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, organised public rallies and meetings, press conferences and then the government and the media came. They were interested and they did something. In the meantime, the government announced compensation for the victims of those who were affected by this disaster. What happened was that the Pakistan People's Party did not give compensation to all of the victims. Then the victims protested, within a year of this incident - last year in August - there were police firing,and two people were killed - son and father were killed in a demonstration.

LAM: The great floods of 2010 in Pakistan generated much public concern globally, and that resulted in over 500-million dollars of foreign aid. Did Baba Jan and his colleagues allege that very little of this money reached the poor, largely due to corruption?

FAROOQ TARIQ: This was the main issue - that the Pakistan People's Party did not give the due funds to all the victims of this natural disaster. They (the PPP) wanted to give it (the money) to some of their own activists of PPP who were not affected. And Baba Jan protested against this malpractice and corruption by the PPP government in Gilgit-Baltistan, and that's how he was victimised. There were over a hundred people arrested at that time, it was last year in August, 2011. But Baba Jan and Iftikhar were the prominent leaders of this movement. The government kept six of them for nearly nine months. So last month, two were released from the Hunza Five, so there remained three in jail. And now, Baba Jan is being framed in another 'anti-terrorist Act'. He's a political activist, he's not a terrorist. He just led a movement for compensation for the victims of this natural disaster. But now he's been charged with the Anti-TErrorist Act. Terrorists, religious fundamentalists get freed from the courts - they're not arrested when they should be arrested - but political activists are victimised under these laws.

LAM: I understand that Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain were both taken away by a Joint-Investigative Team, the JIT, which included members of the police force. Is it true that now you don't know their whereabouts?

FAROOQ TARIQ: No, we finally got to know where they are - they're with the military intelligence, at this time in Gilgit and our friends spent the whole night outside that investigation centre, where Baba Jan and Iftikhar were tortured. But initially, no one knew where they were - they were just picked up, abducted from jail, despite the protests of the prisoners.

Now, Baba Jan has tried to harmonise the religious factions within the jail as well, the Shi'ites and the Sunnis, and he was quite a popular political prisoner inside the jail. So when they tried to take him away, the prisoners protested, but they still took him. Yesterday, we came to know that he is in the physical remand of the JIT (Joint Investigation Team) which includes military intelligence, the Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI, and also the police intelligence agency. No one has been allowed to see them so far. We only know that they are kept now at a police investigation centre outside the jail, and that means alot of torture too, to both of them. But we're happy we at least found where they are, because the fear is that Baba Jan might be killed by the ISI, or by MI (military intelligence). That is our real fear. And many in Pakistan have protested including us, and today there is a hunger strike camp in the Hunza Valley, where Baba Jan belonged to, fearing for the lives of Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain. And then there was a big complain all over Pakistan and internationally, the police were not giving them the medical treatment. It was only the court in Gilgit, which took Baba Jan to hospital, after twelve days, his hand was fractured because of police torture. The issue is that Baba Jan has become a political threat to the government of Gilgit-Baltistan. They want to keep him in jail, and this latest case against him was a last-minute effort to keep him in jail, because the Supreme Court of Gilgit-Balitistan had attracted the bail application of Baba Jan, after nine months.

LAM: So the issue of Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain has come to national attention in Pakistan. Has there been any response from the federal government?

FAROOQ TARIQ: The Human Rights ministry of the government of Pakistan also protested to Gilgit-Baltistan government, why are they treating Baba Jan and his friends like this? So has the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, but officially, we have not heard from the government of Pakistan about their position. And we have gone to the courts, and we know that the police is not implementing the actions of the court and the paeans of the court.