March 24th, 2021
By Hamid Riaz & Hassan Raza
A former Prisoner of Conscience, renowned for his activism on climate change affecting the people of Attabad (Gilgit Baltistan), Baba Jan along with his wife Himmat Begum, visited the AGHS Legal Aid Cell on Monday, 22nd March to meet with old friends and to remember the late Ms Asma Jahangir. At the time of Ms Asma Jahangir’s passing, Baba Jan was in prison and could not pass on his condolences to her family and colleagues.
“I have come to Lahore because this city raised its voice for me,” he told Voicepk.net. “The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the progressives and leftists of Lahore, Ms Asma Jahangir were all my voice while I was incarcerated. I want to thank all of them. They held seminars and press conferences, and published reports demanding for my release…I am truly indebted to them.”
Recounting his time in prison, Baba Jan revealed that he was often brutally tortured by law enforcement agencies and security personnel – his fingers are now crooked after being repeatedly smashed under rifle butts.
“When I lost the energy to lift my arms, they shaved my head and then locked me in a cell for six days without any food,” he revealed. “When people found out what was happening to me, there was an uproar, and I was then shifted to the judicial sub-jail.”
Baba Jan came to know of the passing of human rights defender Asma Jahangir in 2018 while in prison in a moment, which he describes as one of the most terrible experiences of his life.
WHO IS BABA JAN?
Baba Jan first gained prominence following the January 4, 2010 Attabad disaster, in which a massive landslide triggered by glacial melt flattened the Attabad village in the Hunza Valley, killing around 20 and leaving thousands of families homeless. The Attabad Lake was formed, with the flooding of the glacier. Baba Jan was among the local activists who launched a protest against the lack of government aid for displaced persons.
On August 11, 2011 the local police baton-charged and tear-gassed a gathering of protestors in Aliabad, Hunza. The police had fired into the crowd, which resulted in the death of 22 year old Sherullah and his elderly father Sher Afzal, an incident which sparked widespread rioting in the Valley and resulted in the torching of police stations.
Among the 14 activists who had been charged with ‘terrorism’, displaying arms, and destroying government property, Baba Jan was one. They were all imprisoned. Baba Jan spent nine years of his life behind bars in what his friends, supporters and human rights activists across Pakistan understood as trumped up charges. But in 2020, the administration struck an accord with Hunza Valley protesters who had been staging month long sit-ins for the release of the 14 activists – 13 of whom were released via an executive order by the Home and Prison Ministry of Gilgit-Baltistan. Jan was the last to be finally set free on November 27, 2020 and was received with a warm welcome even in the harsh Hunza winter by his friends and family.
It was after his release that Baba Jan’s life could finally begin:
Marrying Himmat Begum, his fiance of 10 years, he set out in March 2021 on a country-wide tour to extend his thanks to all his close allies who fought the long battle for his release during the past decade.