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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Baloch Protesters Released After Violent Crackdown

Baloch protesters demand justice and transparency in the aftermath of a violent crackdown, as the long march led by women leaders amplifies the call for an end to forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan.

In response to the recent violent crackdown on Baloch protesters in Islamabad, the caretaker government has taken swift action to address the situation. Privatisation minister Fawad Hasan Fawad, alongside Information Minister Murtaza Solangi and culture minister Syed Jamal Shah, announced during a press conference in Islamabad that, following the premier’s directives, all women and children involved in the protests have been released.

Additionally, men who were identified among the detainees have also been released. This development comes after widespread condemnation from human rights organizations, analysts, and politicians over the use of force by Islamabad police during the demonstration against enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

Sequence of Events and Government’s Negotiating Team

The confrontation between protesters and police escalated when security officials used water cannons and tear gas, and videos on social media displayed the forceful arrests of Baloch men and women. The government, acknowledging the severity of the situation, formed a negotiating team comprising Solangi, Fawad, and Shah to engage with the families of the protesters.

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During the press conference, Fawad explained that clashes erupted when the police confronted the protesters. He emphasized that the Islamabad police chief presented the facts to the Islamabad High Court, asserting that the protesters did not instigate the chaos. Fawad added that the government believes Baloch protesters were not responsible for the situation, pointing out that some locals intended to exploit the unrest.

Balochistan’s Peaceful Protest and Security Concerns

Fawad clarified that the peaceful protest had been ongoing for 23 days, with the Islamabad police and administration not intervening as long as it remained within the legal parameters. However, he highlighted the government’s concern about the security situation, citing credible evidence that a prolonged gathering on a main street could be exploited.

Fawad expressed the government’s commitment to preventing major incidents and pointed out that protesters were advised to relocate to a different venue, a move met with non-compliance. He acknowledged the arrest of some individuals still under investigation and assured that the Islamabad police chief had been directed to expedite the identification process.

International Outcry and Human Rights Concerns

The violent police crackdown on Baloch protesters in Islamabad has prompted strong reactions from international human rights organizations. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned the “unwarranted force” used against Baloch citizens exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly.

The HRCP demanded the unconditional release of all detainees and urged the government to organize a delegation to address the legitimate demands of the protesters. Similarly, Amnesty International South Asia expressed deep concern over the excessive use of force, stating that it violated the rights to liberty, security, and protest. Amnesty called for the immediate release of protesters and the dropping of charges related to the exercise of freedom of expression.

Various political figures, including BNP-M chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal and former human rights minister Shireen Mazari, condemned the arrests and called for a reevaluation of the government’s decisions.

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Mengal announced an emergency meeting to discuss the actions taken in Islamabad, emphasizing the need to address the sensitive issue of Balochistan with justice. Activists such as Ammar Rashid and Ammar Ali Jan decried the use of force against peaceful marchers, with Ali Jan asserting that such actions undermine the possibility of peaceful agitation and impose conflict on the Baloch people.

Long March for Justice

The recent events in Islamabad are part of a broader narrative rooted in the tragic death of Balaach Mola Bakhsh, a Baloch youth, allegedly killed by the Counter-Terrorism Department officials. His family’s refusal to bury him until justice was served led to a nearly 1,600-kilometer-long march from southern Balochistan to Islamabad. The march aims to draw attention to the pervasive issue of forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan, a region plagued by a violent insurgency for the past two decades.

While mainstream media coverage of the long march has been limited, the journey garnered widespread support along its route. Thousands of ethnic Baloch in different cities expressed solidarity with Bakhsh’s family. The uniqueness of this march lies in its leadership, with women at the forefront. Mahrang Baloch, a prominent leader of the Baloch Yakjehti Committee, emphasized that the movement would persist until demands for the release of disappeared individuals and the disarmament of the Counter Terrorism Department were met.

The march faced challenges as it progressed, with armed harassment reported, road blockades by local administrations, and the detention of peaceful protesters. Baloch activists, particularly women, lead the march, highlighting the continued struggle against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. The fear of state institutions abusing power has fueled the community’s support for the march, as they seek parliamentary and judicial intervention to address the issue.

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The long march is a manifestation of the Baloch people’s determination to seek justice, transparency, and an end to the longstanding practice of forced disappearances in the region. As the marchers continue their journey, their voices resonate not only in Balochistan but across provincial borders, amplifying the call for accountability and human rights.