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Pakistan: Several Baloch protesters still in custody despite govt claims as country fumes over crackdown

Pakistan's caretaker ministers Fawad Hassan Fawad, Murtaza Solangi, and Jamal Nasir told reporters that all women and children had been released, except for the men who ‘could not be identified’ by the cops. However, police were seen forcibly sending women back to Quetta.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Islamabad Published on: December 22, 2023 18:07 IST
Baloch women protesting in Islamabad against enforced
Image Source : ANI Baloch women protesting in Islamabad against enforced disappearances in their province.

After Islamabad police violently cracked down on Baloch protesters during a rally against enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings in their province, several remained in custody despite the federal government claiming to release 90 per cent of the demonstrators - including all women and children.

According to a report by Dawn, the claims were seen in stark contrast to scenes on late Thursday night when the police were seen shoving women into buses and sending them back to Quetta. Authorities had decided to postpone their 'repatriation' till Friday after exhaustive talks with the protesters.

The protesters were adamant they would not budge unless all of them — including the ones booked in FIRs — were released. Outside the police station, two buses crammed with Baloch women were parked, guarded by around 100 police officials.

“First, the police said in the High Court today that they only had one Baloch woman. Then they said the 19-20 women they had were released and now they’re shoving 50+ women onto buses forcibly expe­lling them from Islamabad,” said Imaan Mazari-Hazir, counsel for the Baloch protesters.

Meanwhile, caretaker ministers Fawad Hassan Fawad, Murtaza Solangi, and Jamal Nasir told reporters that all women and children had been released, except for the men who ‘could not be identified’ by the cops. Fawad additionally said that following the late-night crackdown, the caretaker PM had formed a committee to negotiate with the protesters. 

Dramatic scenes in Islamabad

Several Baloch protesters were baton-charged and arrested by police in Islamabad on Wednesday during a rally in the Pakistani capital, triggering an outcry among human rights organisations, analysts and politicians for effecting a "violent state crackdown". Reports suggest that at least 200 people have been arrested, including protest organiser and activist Mahrang Baloch.

The Islamabad police arrested several men and women during a demonstration against enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings against Baloch people. Videos on social media showed security officials firing water cannons and tear gas at the protesters, then dragging men and women and beating them with clubs.

The police also proceeded to dismantle camps and loudspeakers set up by the demonstrators outside the National Press Club. The protest led by Baloch women started on December 6 after an alleged 'extra-judicial killing' of a Baloch youth by officials of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD).

However, as the protesters marched towards the Pakistan capital, the police blocked entry points of the city along with other roads to prevent the protesters from reaching the National Press Club, causing massive traffic jams on busy roads along the federal capital.

On the other hand, the counsel for Baloch protesters informed the IHC that more than 50 Baloch women protesters ‘went missing’ on Wednesday night, following the police action. Baloch citizens carried out rallies and demonstrations against alleged "state terrorism" and acts of forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and fake encounters by the Pakistan government at multiple locations across the country.

IHC seeks report

Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday asked why Baloch protesters in the federal capital were being “forcefully” sent back to their province. “They can stay in Islamabad, protest or go back home. The choice is theirs,” remarked IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq on a petition filed by Baloch protesters.

The Chief Justice of the court also said that peaceful protest is everyone's right and directed the police chief to arrange a meeting of the women with their counsels. He further expressed deep concerns over the surge in street crimes in Islamabad and lambasted the IG Punjab as the police did not do its duties effectively in the state capital.

The previous day, Farooq asserted that Baloch demonstrators have a 'constitutional right' to protest and warned the Islamabad top cop against any hindrance in the protests.

In a post on X, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) strongly condemned the incident and said that women, children and the elderly were subject to "unwarranted force" and separated from their male relatives and allies. "Numerous women protestors have reportedly been arrested and separated from their male relatives and allies. This treatment of Baloch citizens exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly is inexcusable," it said.

"It also reflects how little the state thinks of the protesters' demand that their right to life and liberty be upheld. All those detained must be released unconditionally. Once again, we urgently call on the government to organize a delegation to meet the protesters and give their legitimate demands a fair hearing," the HRCP further noted.

(with ANI inputs)

ALSO READ | Pakistan: Police crackdown on Baloch protesters in rally against enforced disappearances triggers outcry

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