August 30, 2020
By Xari Jalil
Dr Naseem Baloch was abducted twice. In a video claim, he says they were intelligence agents both times – apparently targeting him for his political activism.
At first he was abducted in 2005 along with Dr Imdad Baloch the Chairperson of BSO (Baloch Students Organization), Dr Allah Nazar (former Chairperson of BSO), Dr Yousuf Murad, Ghulam Rasool, Akhtar Nadeem and Ali Nawaz Gohar – the rest also prominent activists of BSO.
He was picked up again in 2010 and tortured for weeks on end. Today he lives in France as a political refugee but despite the severe torture that he has faced, has dared to open up about his experience.
Dr Naseem’s recorded video was first played on the International Day to Support Torture Victims held in Toronto, Canada by the World Sindhi Congress and the Baloch Human Rights Commission (BHRC-Canada) on June 28, 2014. But his story fits just as well as the account of one who was a victim of enforced disappearance.
He was first picked up on March 24, 2005, from Karachi.
“The doorbell rang at 3 am while I was in a deep sleep, and around 20 uniformed personnel accompanied with plain clothed men stormed the flat the moment I opened the door. After being hit a couple of times with a gun-butt on my head and neck, I was left half unconscious. But from the sounds from the next room I could tell that my other colleagues were being blindfolded and tied up. I remember being barefoot, escorted to one of the security jeeps.”
In actuality, this was where the story began. Sleep deprivation, upturned hangings, electric shocks and skin cuts were a norm in that dark dungeon, claims Dr Naseem. The first 72 hours were of sleep deprivation, hanged by the wrists in a dark room with tiled walls, a high beam searchlight hovering in his face.
In an interview with Balochistan Times he has detailed the experience. Dr Naseem says that the beatings recurred at intervals of 10, 20, or 30 minutes.
“During a longer interval, I rubbed my blindfolds aside with my arms. I saw a wall with familiar black and white tiles. A giant searchlight was shooting streams of light into my eyes.
“Water,” I begged. In return, I received four strikes of the cheter along with a bottle of water, hand-fed by a soldier.
“Toilet,” I asked again.
“Tomorrow. Boss isn’t around,” the soldier replied. I knew from my experience in 2005 that it was going to take long.
Hours passed. The guard’s shift changed. Another few hours passed.
“Was it you who wanted to go to toilet,” a soldier touched my shoulders. “Yes,” I said. He untied my hands and led me outside. In the toilet, my blindfolds were removed. One was allowed to relieve himself with eyes open. Such small gestures of kindness make you feel grateful to your captors.
TORTURED…AGAIN AND AGAIN
The torture was mind numbing.
“The personnel at night would whip me with the leather strap the moment he felt that I fell asleep,” remembers Dr Naseem. “Each strip would leave a thick blood mark on the body. They did other things – tied my head up in a plastic bag for suffocation, electrocuted me on my thighs, burnt me with cigarettes on all over my body – and all of it depended on what mood they were in to kill time.”
His interrogation started on the fourth day, with Dr Naseem himself, who was made to sit on a chair, blindfolded, with an officer opposite him and a personnel with a leather strap (ready to hit) standing behind him. This continued for weeks. After 45 days he was shifted to Quetta where the whole cycle continued. Later, somehow, he says, he was freed along with some others on May 25, 2005.
It was not the end for Dr Naseem though. Five years later he was abducted yet again.
“The second time I was picked up from Quetta, along with my cousin Ilyas Baloch and a relative Yasin Baloch,” he says. “I had just finished my hospital shift and were heading back home when we were stopped by the Frontier Corps (FC) personnel who were accompanied by some plain clothes intelligence agents. Again I was blindfolded and tied and put in the back of a vehicle.”
The whole procedure began on repeat, but this time by midnight, shortly after the whipping had stopped, a bearded man entered the dark room. Dr Naseem’s blindfold was removed, and the man began showing him some pictures on a cell phone for him to identify.
“This is when I saw the blue electric shock machine. The Mullah pointed the remote (at the machine) twice and warned me that the frequency was set at 100 Watts and that it could go upto 450 should I choose not to cooperate,” he says.
“I was left unconscious after the electric shocks and do not remember what happened then. In the morning when I asked permission for a toilet break, I discovered blood on my clothes, mainly the lower part of the body and the testicles,” he says describing the gory scene.
“The toilet break was for two minutes a day and was the only place where I could see things. This continued for a week. They would often electrocute the testicles, my head and other sensitive parts of my body. Sometimes they would brutally torture my cousin in front of me to put on more psychological pressure. A long silence would follow each time they electrocuted me, and then one of them would murmur, ‘He will die, that is enough for now‘.”
This time the torture tactics were more brutal. There was more waterboarding, dipping the face in oil, forcibly making the victim stand on ice for long periods of time, pulling off nails, and even hammering iron nails on the ankles and bones of legs. Other ‘gentler’ methods were used, possibly to give way to Stockholm Syndrome.
“One day an officer posing as a psychiatrist visited me. He said he had come from Islamabad especially to see me,” says Dr Naseem Baloch. “He said he was there for three days and would be giving me three hours per day to talk to me. No torture, he assured me.”
But the man kept repeating the same questions again and again.
“He showed me pictures, asked me about places, addresses, maps. Being a student of psychology it took me no time figuring out the mind games that the officer was playing to make me talk more. Such tricks are more practical if the patient, or victim in my case, receives a high dose injection of diazepam, also known as valium. I had nothing secret to hide, I had already told them about my open peaceful politics on the Baloch National Movement’s platform.
LONG LOST PEOPLE
“After a month I was moved to another place where I found political activists Altaf Bugti and Sami Mengal locked up in two neighbouring cells. Altaf was always more aggressive, often mocking the soliders aloud, daring them to kill him.” Sami once said, the cell Dr Naseem was in was lucky as everyone who had been there had been freed.
Finally on the night of July 9, 2010, Dr Naseem was set free. When he came outside, he found out that the Doctor’s Association had called for a strike in all of Balochistan’s hospitals for his safe recovery and that the state had to set me free due to enormous pressure.
My cousin was freed three months later. He told me how he would listen to my screams when they electrocuted me and then one of the soldiers would say, “He will die, that is enough for now.”
During his time inside, spent blindfolded like all the others, Dr Naseem Baloch had discovered that several people had gone and out of those cells. Some, including someone called Hai Kamal, an old man from the Bugti tribe, and two other people from Machh, had been released before him. No one knows what happened to the others.
As for Altaf Bugti and Sami Mengal, they remain missing.