On October 11, Sunday, scores of activists of the Gilgit-Baltistan Youth Alliance gathered outside the Karachi Press Club in Pakistan, demanding the release of 14 imprisoned activists from the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region. Protesters claimed that the demonstrations will continue until the authorities release all the political prisoners who are languishing in jail after being charged under the anti-terrorism act for allegedly causing riots in the Hunza valley of Gilgit-Baltistan in August 2011. Among them are prominent activists Baba Jan and Iftikhar Karbalai.
Violence had erupted in Hunza after two civilians, Afzal Baig and his father Sher Ullah Baig, were killed in police firing against a protest demonstration. The protesters had been demanding compensation from the authorities following a devastating mountain landslide left hundreds of villagers’ houses damaged in 2010. The disaster left over 1,000 displaced.
The protesters on Sunday demanded that the federal government make public the judicial inquiry report into the August 11 incident, and threatened to campaign for the boycott of the upcoming elections in the region if their demands are not met.
Earlier last week, hundreds of people had participated in a two day sit-in protest at the main Aliabad area of Hunza district in Gilgit-Baltistan, expressing solidarity with the 14 activists who continue to remain imprisoned in Gahkuch jail. The petition filed by Baba Jan and others against their conviction has been pending before the courts for the last three years.
“Baba Jan was not there when the protest had been held back in 2011, but he was implicated in the FIR and sent behind the bars against the norms of justice,” said one protester. A report published by The Dawn in July 2012 quoted a Labour Party Pakistan member saying that Baba Jan was subjected to torture inside jail and “beaten with sticks, and his feet crushed under heavy boots for three days in a row. He was denied treatment for his many injuries, despite the orders of the court.”
As per lawyer Ehsan Ali, who is pleading the cases of the convicted prisoners, Baba Jan was running a people’s movement by fighting for the 457 families who were displaced due to the Attabad lake disaster.
On October 11, president of the Awami Workers Party’s Hunza chapter, Zahoor Ahmed, in a statement, urged human rights activists and democratic forces to support the political prisoners.
The Pakistan Mazdoor Kisan Party also condemned the victimization of political activists in Gilgit-Baltistan. “Gilgit-Baltistan remains politically, socio-economically neglected even though the state generates extensive revenue from its tourism and by presenting the rhetoric of a green and expat tourist-friendly,” the party said in a statement.