June 14, 2022
By Xari Jalil
The return of Karachi University students Doda Elahi and Gamshad Baloch on Tuesday, June 14, has spread a wave of relief across the protesting Baloch community, especially since the two were missing since June 7. But the pain and bruises from last night’s police brutality are yet to be healed.
A week ago, unknown people picked up Doda and his friend Gamshad from their flat at around 5 am, without giving any reason. For the next 24 hours, their relatives and friends could not contact them and knew nothing about their whereabouts. But after they went to register an FIR with the police, they were told that it was the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) that had taken them and had also lodged an FIR against them, therefore no FIR could be registered from the family’s side.
“At first we set up a camp outside the Karachi Press Club,” says Sammi Deen Baloch who is one of the leaders of the protest. “But because no one was listening to us, we decided to move to the Sindh Assembly, just the day before yesterday.”
Sammi says that the police were being pressured to move them from the location, but they refused.
“Afterwards the SHO from Artillary Maidan gave us a paper which they tried to pass off as a letter from the CTD saying that they would meet with the family the next day,” she said. “But we knew the letter to be fake – it was not written in an official language and even the paper itself seemed fake. However, we played along, until we found out for sure from our sources that the CTD had never written or sent a message of any meeting.”
Sammi’s father Deen Mohammad Baloch was picked up in 2009 and has been missing for 13 years. She says that her entire life has been spent protesting in this way. “I know well, the state and the police and how they keep us engaged and try to fool us by giving false promises,” she says.
Sammi says that the protestors went to the Karachi Press Club once again, and were told that the CTD would have a meeting with the abducted boys’ family at about 3 pm.
“Despite our information, we kept following up with the police and kept asking them about the meeting but they were constantly using delaying tactics, saying that the officials were busy, or that the meeting was postponed. These lies were only adding to our frustration.”
Again the protestors decided to move to Sindh Assembly and pushed through the cordoned-off area near the end of the street of the Karachi Press Club. This was around 6 30 pm – three hours on from the time the police had given the protestors for the so-called meeting, she said.
As they began to move towards the Sindh Assembly, the police charged at the protestors and began beating them up, especially the men.
“There was chaos and confusion. We tried to handle the problem and it was partially mediated and we didn’t resist anymore. All we said was that we would sit there till night because our demands should be heard. Even then they kept pressuring us to leave. However, at this point, the relatives of Doda and Gamshad refused to cooperate because they were being fed lies by the police.”
They then called their other team, and began a crackdown on them, says Sammi, beating them up brutally and dragging the protestors.
“We were all in a terrible state as we were taken to the police station. Some were taken to the hospital directly because they were so badly injured. Some were unconscious. All of us were injured.
“They did not care to see who it was – man or woman – they dragged us and dumped us into their vehicles as if we were lifeless objects,” she said. ”We have bruises and scratch marks all over our bodies. I had lost my shoe and was dragged by the police. My foot is very badly injured. Later when they took us to the police station, they also humiliated us: my younger sister was slapped two or three times only for resisting giving up her cell phone. She is just 18. They didn’t think twice about us as kids who were scared or anguished facing such a depressing situation.”
She adds that the police also threatened them of being nominated in FIRs if they had recorded anything on their cellphones.
Two other women were taken to the Malir PS alongside Sammi where she said they underwent a body search and interrogation. The rest were taken to the Artillery Maidan police station. After three hours of interrogation, the detained protestors were finally released with warnings.
“Even after the release, some of our boys were missing and we were scared that they were now missing, however, we found out they were being kept in separate stations. We pushed for them to be released. The police were also not returning our phones to us. They also pushed a condition on us that we assure them that there should be no protest in the Red Zone after this. Everyone signed on it, but I did not,” says Sammi. “The police threatened us with FIRs if they saw us in the Red Zone. But because some of the protestors were under threat, we promised for the time being.”
The detained party did not reach home until 3 am that night.
For the Baloch community in particular this new wave of abductions by state authorities has become a serious problem. They say that students studying in Punjab and Sindh are being targeted for no solid reason or on mere suspicion.
“After the suicide bombing, we can see many women being targeted, within Balochistan as well, and students studying in other parts of the country as well – students who have gone there purely on basis of their qualifications and merit, who intend to study only. But the prejudice is such that they are being targeted,” says Sammi. “Since the Shari Baloch suicide bombing case, they have now got a new reason to pick us. But this reflects the state’s incompetence that those who are on-ground, who are students, are being targeted, while those who ought to be monitored are not. Reports within the Pakistani media itself have stated that the students are not connected to these terrorist activities.”
Meanwhile Doda Elahi’s sister-in-law, Mahnaz spoke to Voicepk saying that the two boys were now back and extremely weak but relieved to be with family and friends. She said she was extremely thankful for everyone who had stood by them and their demands and for the solidarity shown by people across communities – including non-Baloch.
Mahnaz who is pregnant was also one of the victims of police torture, beaten up and treated roughly. She was also taken to the station. However, she said once at the station they were treated better.
Speaking of Doda and Gamshad she said, “They don’t bear any torture marks, except for some on their backs. But they are weak and have not rested in days.”
Mahnaz also said that the Sindh IG Police had said that he would make time for a meeting with them.
Baloch women being dragged on the streets of Karachi for demanding release of missing persons. pic.twitter.com/66ujzp1G9o
— The Balochistan Post – English (@TBPEnglish) June 13, 2022
Civil society condemned the police brutality on Tuesday against the protestors and many blamed the Sindh Government directly for their indifference towards the issue.
The appalling manhandling of peaceful protesters seeking recovery of Baloch students forcibly disappeared should not be tolerated in Pakistan.
The right to peaceful assembly and protest cannot be abridged. 1/3
— عورت مارچ لاہور – Aurat March Lahore (@AuratMarch) June 14, 2022
Citizens also condemned the silence of the Sindh government over the incident.
Earlier Murtaza Wahab, spokesman of Sindh Government and Advisor to Chief Minister Sindh on Law, had tweeted a condemnation over the episode:
Police action on peaceful protesters was wrong & condemnable. PPP believes in this fundamental right & police must deal with such issues with empathy. Protesters may also consider confining their protest to the area around press club which has been reserved for peaceful protests
— Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui (@murtazawahab1) June 13, 2022
On Tuesday evening, a press conference was held at the Karachi Press Club, “There are many questions now over the attitude of the Sindh government over the demands of the Baloch people,” said one of the organizers of the conference, Amna Baloch, who is also a representative of the Baloch Yekjehti Committee.
“The police was extremely violent to us, both physically and verbally,” she said in the press conference. “We were told that we deserved to be treated like this (aap logon kay saath aisa hi hona chahye), and we were also told, that we would be given a lesson when our clothes would be stripped off us. (aap logon ki jab shalwarain utaari jayengi tou pata chalay ga). This the police said to us themselves.”
She said that the police had also told them that they had been ordered by the Sindh Government to baton charge them and that they be arrested.
The ruling government must be questioned, she said.
“Sindh has violated us and has disrespected us deeply.” She also counted some of those who were missing.
“Noor Baksh is missing for a month and a half,” she said. “He was picked up after being beaten in front of his wife. Noor belongs to the Makran region. Saeed Ahmed was also picked up one month ago, he belongs from Kech. He was picked up from Malir. From Maripur, five youths were picked up in Ramzan. They were released and then picked up again, and we still don’t know where they are.”
Amna Baloch said that at least 20 to 25 young people had been picked up since the KU suicide bombing incident. “Some have been released, but the whereabouts of others remain unknown,” she said.
“Murtaza Wahab said that the protestors should not have gone to Sindh Assembly. Through this press conference, I ask you, Murtaza Wahab, why you did not reply to our demands about the release of our youth? We are also citizens of this country. We were sitting in and no one came to us. We did not know that aside from being blind and deaf, the Sindh authorities are also unable to walk towards us to talk to us.”
She said that they did not only speak for those who were abducted from the Baloch community but for others as well. “Recently around 30 people from the Sindhi and Urdu speaking community were picked up, we demand their release too. We want our children to study in their schools too. But they are victims of hatred and profiling, they are harassed in universities. When they look at our cultural dress – especially women – they say to us why do you come here to study, you support terrorists. So, Mr Wahab, we are seeing what you do when your own people are picked up. We will continue our protest till you stop targeting us.
At the conference, the mother of Saeed Ahmed was present as well. Saeed who had studied in Russia and had returned to Pakistan only to be picked up on Ramzan 27.
She pleaded with the Sindh government to release her son. “We are ordinary people who have come to Karachi to educate our children,” she said. “We are hard-working people and belong to far-flung areas. Our only demand is that these children should be brought to the courts. We are ready to face the trial and everything.”
NO SOLID STATEMENT
There have been no solid statements about releasing any of the Baloch students who have been picked up. But the President of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) said on Twitter that he was in talks with the Prime Minister and ‘knew what had to be done if their demands were not met’.
“Whoever is claiming that I am silent about the incidents of missing persons’ issue is only doing it for political gain. Absurd accusation. Not that I am answerable to them but since many supporters are asking…have given PM time if not delivered then will decide accordingly.”
Look who’s talking madam. You were human right minster for over3 years.What did you did except say the missing persons bill went missing? Please don’t forget our countless conversations Mohsin Dawar & I asked you to get the enforcered disappearance bill passed, you opposed it. https://t.co/btDgUiteg0
— Akhtar Mengal (@sakhtarmengal) June 14, 2022
Apart from Mengal, Sanaullah Baloch also tweeted a response.
Strongly condemn #Sindh Police’s heavy-handedness & inhuman act of violence against innocent & peaceful #Baloch women and students, protesting against #EnforcedDisappearnces of Baloch.
GoS must investigate, such acts have already created immense distress amongst the Baloch. https://t.co/LWMfkKzfSu
— Sana Ullah BALOCH, MPA (@Senator_Baloch) June 13, 2022
PPP leader Farhatullah Babar who is known for his stance on human rights issues spoke up saying, “Use of disproportionate force and arrest of women by police in Karachi for protesting against allegedly illegal abductions of their family members is highly disturbing. Hope the disappeared are recovered safely and the arrested women released without delay.”