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Human Rights violations in Pak: Baloch student spent 9 months in custody of ‘mystery men’

April 7, 2019
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Human Rights violations in Pak: Baloch student spent 9 months in custody of ‘mystery men’

Islamabad: The 24-year old Sagheer Baloch — final year student of the University of Karachi— spent nine months in the custody of “mystery men,” who abducted him from the varsity canteen in broad daylight. He returned home unscathed much to the relief of his family. After his return, Sagheer remained silent about who his abductors were and where they kept him as the solace of being left alive was a “dream come true” for him.

Sagheer, a resident of Awaran district in Baluchistan, comes from humble family background. The family sent him to the University of Karachi to pursue a Masters in Political Science. Before the young man could complete his post-graduation, he was kidnapped by the “mystery men” on 20 November 2017. Soon after his enforced disappearance his elder sister Hameeda Baloch started looking for him but couldn’t ascertain his whereabouts.

Hameeda said that family approached Mobina Town police station to seek help but the cold response from the men in uniform disappointed them. “Though the Karachi police were reluctant to file a first information report initially, they later registered the case on 7 December 2017,” she said.

The police registered a case under Section 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine a person) and Section 34 (common intention) of Pakistan Penal Code against unknown persons on Hameeda’s complaint.

Hameeda’s struggle

Hameeda while narrating the ordeal said that her brother had gone to the university on that fateful day to take the exam. “After taking the exam,” she said, “He (Sagheer) was having tea near the Visual Studies department of the Karachi University when several persons showed up in a car and two motorbikes.”

While quoting his friends, Hameeda said that the “mystery men” encircled his brother and his friends and took two of them away. “Moments later one person came back and asked for my brother’s bag and took it as well,” she said.

Hameeda asserted that her brother had “no association” with any political or militant organisation in Baluchistan. “We hail from Baluchistan but have been living in Karachi for the past five years,” Pakistan media had quoted her as having said.

After Sagheer’s abduction, Hameeda said that she did everything from raising slogans on the streets and sitting on silent token-hunger strike. But she didn’t get any response from the authorities. “He must be tried in a court if he’s a criminal. I don’t want his mutilated body like many other missing persons,” Hameed said.

She alleged that law enforcement agencies could be behind Sagheer’s abduction.“Law enforcement agencies may have taken him by mistake,” Hameeda told reporters during a news conference at Quetta Press Club in April 2018.

In the same presser, she made a fervent appeal to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, to help her trace Sagheer, who had vanished in thin air.

A question on national security

The Dawn while quoting the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) office-bearer Asad Iqbal Butt said that they had received an application from the family of the missing student.

Butt said, that sometimes the HRCP received a “typical response” from the relevant authorities that “the missing person was not in their custody”, but in the KU student’s (Sagheer’s) case the rights body did not receive any response from the authorities.

Azhar Shah, a senior police officer, while talking to this reporter said, “Security agencies only pick the individuals who are a threat to national security.” He said that the suspects are rounded up after thorough investigation with the prior permission of higher authorities.

Azhar, however, refused to comment on the evidence which security agencies collect before picking up the suspect.

After Sagheer’s enforced disappearance Baloch Freedom Front petitioned United Nations and 9 others seeking their intervention to trace him.

The petition stated: “It’s common for students to go to college for higher studies. It’s common for students to try and get a good degree in order to make living for themselves and for families. It’s a matter of big fortune for students to get admission in Karachi University. It’s common for them to sit in a canteen with their friends. But if you are a Baloch then one horrific thing is also common and that is getting abducted for no reason. This is exactly what happened with Sagheer Baloch and now his sister is doing everything to get her brother back.”

Quetta based human rights activist Fareeda Shinwari said, “Abductions of Balochi youth still continue. It’s alarming. We have received 40 fresh complaints since October 2017. The actual number of missing persons may be higher as families of victims are too scared to report,” she added.

Sagheer returns, refuses to speak

After spending nine months in the custody of his abductors, Sagheer returned home in July 2018. However, he remained tight-lipped and didn’t utter a word about his abductors and where he had been kept.

Sagheer arriving home alive made his family ecstatic. “Thank God, our efforts bore fruit. We are so lucky to have him back,” Hameeda, his sister, told this correspondent.

Human rights activists appreciated law enforcement agencies for ensuring Sagheer’s safe return. “So glad to know he’s back unharmed. We appreciate law enforcement agencies for ensuring Sagheer’s return. The Government should play its role to seek release and recovery of hundreds of Baloch youth you have disappeared mysteriously,” said, Zargul Zubair, a human rights activist and former coordinator of Baloch Council.

For representative purposes only. Picture credit: Kiyya Baloch

According to the World Report 2019—Pakistan Human Rights Watch— “Pakistani security forces often are responsible for serious human rights violations including torture, enforced disappearances, detention without charge, and extrajudicial killings. The report quoting Pakistan human rights defenders and defense lawyers states that the counterterrorism laws continue to be misused as an instrument of political coercion.

Another report, State of Human Rights in 2018, released by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan states that enforced disappearances continue to be reported in significant numbers and many more are not reported either in the absence of redress mechanisms or fear that protests or agitation may endanger lives of missing persons. The report quotes former chief minister of Baluchistan, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, stating that as many as 235 people, including nine women, have gone missing from Baluchistan. “Families had received 45 dead bodies from 25 July to 30 October 2018 and as many as 5,000 people are still reportedly missing from Baluchistan,” the report quotes Mengal as having said.

According to Mengal, people don’t register FIRs into the missing cases due to the fear of reprisal. “Ones who seek the legal recourse receive threats from law enforcement agencies,” he alleged. Mengal asserted that the human rights activists, nationalists, and others, who raised the issue of enforced disappearances on social media were also picked up by intelligence agencies.

In its bi-annual report in 2018 [a copy of which is available with this correspondent] the state of Baluchistan ’s Human Rights, the Baloch human rights organisation and human rights council have stated that they have received ‘partial reports’ in 541 cases of enforced disappearances in the first half of the year. In the majority of 96 cases of alleged human rights violations, ‘the victims were picked up by security forces from their homes, in front of the families and villagers’.

Amnesty International slams Pak govt

The Amnesty International in March 2018 stated that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has more than 700 pending cases from Pakistan. Amnesty said that people are wrenched away from their loved ones by state officials or others acting on their behalf. “They deny the person is in their custody or refuse to say where they are. Families are plunged into a state of anguish, trying to keep the flame of hope alive while fearing the worst,” the AI said. “They may be in this limbo for years. The disappeared are at risk of torture and even death. If they are released, the physical and psychological scars endure. If they are killed, the family never recovers from their loss,” it said.

The AI had welcomed Pakistan’s acceptance of recommendations to make enforced disappearance a criminal offence but it had expressed dismay over its failure to accept several recommendations including from states with their own traumatic history of disappearances to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The victims include bloggers, journalists, students, peace activists and other human rights defenders, Amnesty said. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has also recommended that the government of Pakistan should ratify the International Convention to Protect All Persons against Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance.

According to the Baluchistan Times, the cases of enforced disappearances in Baluchistan date back to the early 1970s when the security establishment of Pakistan abducted a number of Baloch political activists, including the prominent figure Asad Mengal. He was the elder brother of Baluchistan National Party chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal. The daily reported that the early years of 2000 witnessed some cases of enforced disappearances; however, by 2009 the number of such cases increased manifolds. “The state authorities in Pakistan adopted a systematic attack against the political dissidents in order to weaken an emerging national struggle for the Right to Self Determination,” the daily reported.

It claimed that besides directly abducting political and social activists, the security establishment outsourced a number of proxy death squads to carry out widespread target killings and forceful abductions. According to a report by BBC, about 1,000 dumped dead bodies of missing persons were found in Baluchistan between the years 2011 and 2016. Baloch human rights organisations claim thousands are still missing, believed to be at the mercy of their abductors.

Security agencies in Pakistan faced widespread criticism from the international community after hundreds of bullet-ridden bodies were found in various districts of insurgency-hit Baluchistan province. Sources from Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights had confirmed that at least 936 bodies have been found in Baluchistan since 2011. “Most of them were found dumped in the remote areas of big cities of Baluchistan province including Quetta, Qalat, Khuzdar and Makran,” said an official.

[The author is an Islamabad-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters]