The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slammed the government Thursday for stopping three human rights activists from leaving the country to attend a conference in New York.
In a written press release, HRCP called it “ridiculous” that the government would bar travel in order to censor someone’s point of view.
One of the activists, 73-year-old Abdul Qadeer Baloch — known as Mama [Uncle] Qadeer — made headlines last year when he walked a grueling 2,000 kilometers from Quetta to the capital, Islamabad, with a group of other activists to raise awareness about enforced disappearances in the restive Balochistan province.
He planned to travel to New York with Farzana Majeed, fellow member of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, and activist Faiqa, who goes by only one name. They had been invited by the Sindh Academic and Cultural Society of North America to attend a March 7 conference on alleged human rights violations in Balochistan and Sindh provinces.
Majeed said she was told by officials of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan that her and Qadeers' names had been added to the exit control list, used to block people from travelling abroad, an hour before their arrival at the airport. Faiqa said she was stopped for traveling with them. Majeed was also told that a report had been filed with the police accusing her and Qadeer of “anti-state activities.”
Ministry of Interior officials, reached by VOA, said they were not authorized to speak on this issue and could not find someone who was.
An English language daily, the Dawn newspaper, reported that FIA Director Shahid Hayat confirmed Qadeer’s name was added to the exit control list.
History of grievances
Balochistan, a western Pakistani province bordering Iran, has a history of grievances against Pakistan’s central government that has led to several armed insurgencies. Baloch rights activists complain their province has been denied development and growth while natural resources extracted from the province have been used to develop other regions, particularly Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab.
The activists maintain that those who raise their voices about these topics face the wrath of the country’s security agencies.
In a public statement last year, Amnesty International wrote: “The Frontier Corps and other state security forces have been widely implicated in enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and other human rights violations in the province for several years.”
The Frontier Corps is a paramilitary force used to maintain law and order in Balochistan due to the lack of an adequately developed provincial police.
An international conference on disappearances in Asia, held in Islamabad last month, adopted a resolution that expressed “alarm” that enforced and involuntary disappearances are continuing unabated in many Asian countries. Delegates of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines attended the conference.
The United Nations office of human rights has urged the Pakistani government several times to investigate reports of enforced disappearances and other human rights violations, particularly in Balochistan. In 2011, then-U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed alarm at the “extrajudicial killings, abductions, and disappearances of minority leaders and political activists in Baluchistan.”
The U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances visited Pakistan at the invitation of the government in 2012. In its report, it expressed concern at the “pattern” of involuntary or enforced disappearances and at allegations that “law enforcement agencies in conjunction with intelligence agencies” were involved.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the government to recover victims of enforced disappearances in 2013, but activists complain of lack of action on the order.
Meanwhile, security agencies deny charges of human rights violations and insist they are working in a difficult security situation to keep law and order in a province that has seen widespread militant activity, including ethnic and religious violence.
Many young men considered “missing,” they say, often get involved with religious extremists and leave without informing their families. Others get involved with armed groups and become victims of turf warfare. Still others are picked up because they are involved in “terrorist activities” or collude with Pakistan’s rival India for their separatist agenda. These agencies point to varied violent attacks to show how many different kinds of groups are operating in the region that are involved in human rights violations.
An attack by Taliban militants on two air force bases in the provincial capital Quetta last year left more than 10 militants dead and a dozen or so security personnel injured.
The Shi’ite Hazara community has often been a target of attacks claimed by Sunni militant groups. A separatist group, Baloch Liberation Army, claimed responsibility for a 2013 attack that burned down the two-story house in which Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah spent his last days.
In 2010, a constitutional amendment was passed, granting more autonomy to provinces. It was followed by the election of a middle class leader from a progressive political party as the head of Balochistan government in 2013. These raised hopes for change. However, the Balochistan government has come under increased criticism by Baloch nationalist leaders for “failure” to improve the security situation in the province.
Meanwhile, Balochistan activists such as Mama Qadeer, whose son was picked up in 2009, and whose dead body was found in 2011 with signs of torture, and Farzana Majeed, whose brother remains missing after a 2009 disappearance, are waiting to find out why they have been denied the right to travel and what charges have been filed against them.