Baloch students protest repeated enforced disappearances

Several student groups gave the call for protests after Bebagr Imdad, a Baloch student, was picked up in broad daylight from the premises of Punjab university (PU) in national capital Islamabad

May 04, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Baloch students protest
(Photo: via Ali Baloch/ Twitter)

In Pakistan, students and families of missing Baloch persons held demonstrations on Wednesday, May 4 responding to the call of Baloch student groups to protest against recent disappearances and the systematic harassment of Baloch students in the country.

In Islamabad, the Baloch Student Council (BSC) staged a protest against the enforced disappearance of Bebagr Imdad and other students. Bebagr Imdad, a Baloch student, was picked up in broad daylight from the premises of Punjab university (PU) in national capital Islamabad towards the end of April.

A sit-in protest by Baloch students, which was launched in front of Punjab University’s vice-chancellor’s office following the abduction of Bebagr Imdad continued for the sixth-day. In Turbat city of Balochistan, students from various educational institutions marched holding placards to protest the rising cases of enforced disappearances.

On April 28, a video surfaced on social media showing a group of men, including university officials, beating and shoving a man, reportedly Imdad, into a van on the premises of PU. Imdad, a student of Literature and Linguistics at National University of Modern Languages(NUML), was visiting a relative when he was abducted.

Shortly after the news went viral, several Baloch students from the university launched a sit-in protest to demand his release and information of his whereabouts. Some of the protesting students were also assaulted by the police and university administration.

Following this episode, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) formed a commission to address the grievances of Baloch students. Chief Justice Athar Minallah directed president Arif Alvi to ensure the security of Baloch students on university campuses and that no racial profiling takes place. Racial profiling includes discriminatory practices by law enforcement officials targeting individuals on suspicion of crimes based on the their race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.

According to reports, Imdad’s disappearance is being linked to last week’s suicide bombing at Karachi University (KU) on April 26 which killed three Chinese nationals. 

Two more Baloch students, Dildar and Najeeb Rasheed, were also reportedly picked up from Karachi, presumably in connection with the KU suicide blasts. There is no information regarding their whereabouts.

In an email to Reuters, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA)’s Majeed Brigade had claimed responsibility for the KU bombing. The BLA is a armed group whose aim is to achieve political freedom of Balochistan from Pakistan. 

Balochistan has witnessed decades of insurgency against the exploitation of its natural resources. It borders Afghanistan and Iran on the west and holds large reserves of minerals and natural gas. Despite this, Balochistan ranks low on the scale of inter-regional development in Pakistan. At least 52% of the population is living below the poverty line.

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

Rights groups like the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons estimate that at least 5,000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearances in Balochistan in the last 20 years. The security forces often accept that the missing persons have been detained on suspicion of being Baloch fighters.

The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances maintains that there were 1,144 cases of allegations of enforced disappearances in Pakistan between 1980 and 2019, with 731 people still missing.  

In a recent press release that sounded the alarm over the frequent reports of abductions of Baloch people, Hina Jilani, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said, “The state must understand that it cannot expect to resolve the legitimate grievances of the Baloch people if it is not prepared to let these grievances see the light of the day.”

It is unclear if the new Shehbaz Sharif government will be any different on this issue “Each of these political parties indulges in political sloganeering regarding the forceful abductions only when they are not in the government. Once they take the charge, they forget about it and make conscious efforts to toe the establishment’s narrative on identity politics,” an activist of the Progressive Students Federation (PRSF) from Islamabad told Peoples Dispatch.

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