Pakistani students intensify protest seeking safe return of missing research scholar

Baloch student groups have been calling for the safe release of Hafeez Baloch by organizing protests, hunger strikes and peaceful demonstrations.

March 16, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Baloch students staged an 11-day demonstration outside the Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photo: Sammi Deen Baloch

Baloch students staged an 11-day demonstration outside the Press Club in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan to demand the safe return of Hafeez Baloch, a research scholar at Quaid-e-Azam University in Balochistan who was forcibly picked up allegedly by security forces from Khuzdar city on February 8.

In the demonstration which began on March 1, participating students hailing from Balochistan held placards and banners that read “not only our lives but our knowledge is caged too,” “we want safe recovery of our fellow students,” “stop harassment of Baloch students”.

The student’s sit-in was joined by several officials including Sardar Ahtar Mengal, the Balochistan National Party chief and a member of National Assembly and Shireen Mazari, who is acting Federal Human Rights Minister.

In response to the peaceful protest, the police tried to suppress the demonstrators by using force. They also filed anti-state charges such as rioting, criminal conspiracy against 200 students including activists Imaan Mazari and Mohsin Dawar. However, the court on March 7, quashed the first information report against the students and other activists asked the federal cabinet to instead redress the grievances of the students.

In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stressed that the cases lodged against those who participated in the Baloch students was a travesty: “Many of the protesters were also assaulted by the police at the site. It is unfathomable that the state chooses to persecute with impunity those who are asking for nothing more than the truth about enforced disappearances: a grim sign that we are inching closer to the makings of a police state.”

For almost a month now, the Baloch student groups have been demanding the safe release of Hafeez Baloch by organizing protests, hunger strikes and peaceful demonstrations. Several civil society groups including student unions have raised the demand of students being subjected to surveillance and racial profiling besides being ignored by the federal government.

“Our demand is simple and clear that we should be allowed to study. And our fellow student Hafeez Baloch should be released wherever he has been kept,” Zaheer Ahmad, a protesting student, told Geo News.

“Studying at the Quaid-e-Azam university, researcher Hafeez went missing on February 8 from Khuzdar and now Baloch studies here in Islamabad are also feeling scared as they are repeatedly intimidated,” student Qamar Baloch added.

Hafeez was teaching at the science academy when some unidentified men cornered him and forcibly took him to an unknown location, his family members confirmed “two abductors sneaked inside the classroom and subsequently abducted him in presence of his students”.

Such kidnappings are often blamed on Pakistani intelligence agencies that have a reputation of being involved in enforced disappearances in the region. “Before subjecting him to enforced disappearance, Hafeez was explicitly profiled and then harassed after which he was picked up,” one of the protesters, Akram Baloch, told Geo News.

Hundreds of protesters have hit the streets repeatedly to demand the release of missing students and to protest unlawful arrests. Protesters carrying placards in solidarity with Hafeez Baloch and other victims of enforced disappearances staged demonstrations in Khuzdar city, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

On March 11, family members of journalist Mudassar Naru, also joined Baloch students protest camp in Islamabad to express solidarity. After being mysteriously picked up from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Balakot, Naru too continues to remain missing since 2018.