LONDON: Transport for London (TfL) has removed posters with the messages “Free Balochistan: save the Baloch people” from London buses. It is the second time in as many weeks that such posters have appeared on London’s streets.
On the first occasion, on Nov 2, posters appeared on London taxis. “The Pakistan High Commission in London complained to TfL asking for those advertisements to be removed,” said Muneer Ahmed of the High Commission, adding that TfL acted quickly, removing the posters the next day.
But that did not stop campaigners putting similar poster on buses instead.
The High Commission has again contacted TfL and, once again, the posters have been taken down.
A TfL spokesperson said: “This advert does not comply with our advertising guidelines. It was accepted in error by our advertising partner and was not referred to us for our consideration. We have instructed that all such adverts must be removed immediately.”
Pakistan High Commission had complained to department concerned about the ads
The advertisements in London are similar to ones put up in Geneva in September timed to coincide with UN discussions on human rights issues. Both the London and Geneva campaigns have been widely reported in the Indian press.
There is a third element of the Baloch advertising campaign in London.
Posters have also appeared on billboards in the UK capital. The Pakistan High Commission has taken that issue to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). “They have acknowledged our complaint and have said they will get back to us,” Mr Ahmed said.
The ASA said it had received a complaint about a digital outdoor advertisement placed by the World Baloch Organisation. “The High Commission believes the ad is harmful and offensive,” the ASA said. “We have just received the complaint so we are currently assessing it and no decision has been made on whether we will launch an investigation.”
ASA rules do not prohibit pressure groups form advertising in non-broadcast media. “But,” the ASA said, “like all advertisers they are subject to rules which require that ads do not contain anything that is likely to mislead, harm or offend.”
TfL applies a slightly different standard assessing whether advertisements are “controversial and sensitive”.
The Baloch movement has attracted support from an unlikely set of public figures in the UK, including the British nationalist Tommy Robinson and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
“Why was TfL so quick to order the adverts be removed?” Tatchell asked in a recent article for the Guardian. “It looks like a panicked reaction to Pakistani lobbying and, possibly, to pressure from the Foreign Office,” he said.
Pakistani officials believe that the posters are part of a broad campaign to undermine international support for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
They say that India is supporting both the pro-independence rebels in Balochistan and trying to put obstacles in the way of CPEC.
To the longstanding irritation of the Pakistani authorities, London is home to a number of Baloch independence leaders who have campaigned from the UK to secure a higher international profile for the Baloch cause.
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2017