On Friday, Pakistanis took to Twitter to demand the release of activist Baba Jan who has been serving sentence behind prison bars for 6 years now. Reportedly, he is the longest-serving political prisoner in occupied Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan.
In the aftermath of a mountain landslide into the Hunza river in Gilgit-Baltistan in January 2010, more than 1000 inhabitants of the occupied territory were displaced. It was Baba Jan who then led a campaign, demanding compensation for those whose homes were destroyed due to the calamity. As a result of his continuous protests, the Government of Pakistan finally decided to compensate the victims. However, about 25 families out of 457 were yet to be compensated.
Baba Jan charged for terrorism
The protests for compensation intensified in August 2011 and the police tried to curb the growing dissent with an iron hand. Two people, namely, Afzal Baig and his father Sher Ullah Baig, were killed in police firing. The news of their killing had spread like a wildfire, and this culminated into increased incidents of violence, rioting and arson. The police then charged Baba Jan and 11 others on charges of terrorism and killing Afzal and Sher Ullah Baig.
He has been behind bars since 2014. In the succeeding year, he also contested elections from jail premises. Even though he came runners-up, a report noted, “His absence from the electoral campaign weighed heavier than the combined presence of all the other candidates and their state backers.”
Support pours in for the Gilgit-Baltistan activist
Voicing support for Baba Jan, Pashtun leader Ali Wazir tweeted, “Baba Jan and his comrades have been imprisoned in baseless political cases for several years. It may be recalled that Baba Jan was fighting for the rights of his area in Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan State institutions always want to keep powerful voices like Baba Jan in captivity.”
بابا جان اورساتھی جو کئ سالوں سے بے بنیاد سیاسی مقدمات میں قیدی بنائے گئے ہیں— Ali Wazir (@Aliwazirna50) September 24, 2020
یاد رہے بابا جان گلگت بلتستان ہنزہ میں اپنے علاقے کی حقوق کی جدوجہد کر رہے تھے
بابا جان جیسے توانا آوازوں کو ریاستی ادارے ہمیشہ قید میں رکھنا چاہتے ہیں#ReleaseBabaJan#IAmPashteen#StopStateTerrorism pic.twitter.com/k2Kij9o2w0
A Twitter user, Maria, highlighted the lack of freedom of speech and expression in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit Baltistan. She tweeted, “Over and over again, this state punishes those who possess any form of critical consciousness, it silences those who amplify the voices of the public, it hunts down those who stand against injustices. This state has failed Baba Jan, and it has failed us all.”
Over and over again, this state punishes those who possess any form of critical consciousness, it silences those who amplify the voices of the public, it hunts down those who stand against injustices. This state has failed Baba Jan, and it has failed us all.#FreeBabaJan pic.twitter.com/KVQLF2r17y— Maria ☭🌷 #DownWithFascism (@marriyamalik1) September 25, 2020
Other users pointed out how anti-terror laws were misused in Gilgit-Baltistan by the Pakistani regime to curb political dissent. To several Pakistani netizens, Baba Jan has been the voice of the voiceless and has defended the rights of the poor.
Baba Jan is not against the state. He is against exploitation without rights. He is a prisoner of conscience and climate change, the voice of the voiceless in Gilgit-Baltistan. #FreeBabaJan— Rizwan K Qalandar (@qalandarkriz) September 25, 2020
Baba Jan is a symbol of resistance against injustice and colonial rule. Baba Jan is currently serving a lifetime jail sentence for defending the rights of poor. #FreeBabaJan pic.twitter.com/ZlkexT0Izf— Fatima khattak (@PTMTiger2) September 25, 2020
POK activist Tanveer Ahmed tortured by security agencies
Earlier, the Pakistani security agencies had arrested and tortured activist Tanveer Ahmed after he removed the Pakistani flag from Maqbool Bhat Shaheed Chowk, Dadyal in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. He was then manhandled and tortured by the Pakistani agencies. In a video that went viral online, the security forces were seen forcibly dragging Tanveer Ahmed on the ground. He was then coerced into a law enforcement vehicle while onlookers watched his ordeal. Following his unconstitutional arrest, the people of Dadyal hit the streets in large numbers and demanded his immediate release.