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A group of civil society representatives appealed to the Sindh government on Monday to take notice of alleged high handedness of a provincial minister's brother who is accused of harassing Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Chairman Syed Mohammad Ali Shah.

Speaking at a press conference in Hyderabad, they urged the civil society, media and rights bodies to rise to the occasion to save Shah, whose life they said is at stake in the aftermath of the December 25, 2017 incident in which Shah and his four colleagues were held hostage and beaten up allegedly by the armed men of Shoukat Ali Malkani, brother of provincial minister for livestock and fisheries Mohammad Ali Malkani, in Sujawal.

Those who spoke at the event included Zulfiqar Halepoto, Ghulam Mustafa Baloch, Kashif Bajir, Kashif Siddiqui, Dr Ashothama, Punhal Sario, Ismail Kumbhar, Mahesh Kumar, Azad Mirwahi and Majeed Mallah. Shah was also present at the press conference.

The activists urged PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to intervene in the matter and announced that they would launch an agitation and a signature campaign in support of Shah and other PFF activists. They also sought an end to the illegal occupation of freshwater bodies in Sindh, numbering 600. According to the activists, 12 out of these 600 lakes are under illegal occupation of the fisheries minister himself.

Shah had visited Babli lake, which was allegedly occupied by the Malkanis, in a coastal village of Sujawal on December 25 when he was allegedly subjected to harassment. According to Shah, he was detained in Chhach Jehan Khan where a guest house of the minister was located. His associates Noor Mohammad Theamore and Khadim Wanghai were also allegedly tortured during the episode.

Shah had lodged a first information report (FIR) against two accused, Ghafar Jat, said to be a cousin of the fisheries minister, and his manager, Mirjat.

Speaking at the press conference, Shah claimed that police were trying to cover up the matter. “No action has been taken after registration of the FIR so far and no arrests have been made,” he said.

The civil society activists said that sweet water bodies were occupied by powerful politicians, which was a condemnable act. Quoting figures, they said 1,200 sweet water lakes exist in Thatta, Sujawal and Badin districts of Sindh but landlords and land mafia were occupying over 600 of them for the last few years.

They accused the Sindh fisheries minister and his brother Shoukat of occupying 12 lakes in Sujawal, depriving over two million people of the fishing communities of their livelihood and forcing them to migrate.

They recalled that the Sindh High Court, in its order of September 28, 2017, had declared occupation of sweet water bodies as unlawful and a notification was also issued in this regard. They said the court’s orders were not implemented which constitutes contempt of court.

The activists said that Shah had been struggling against the contract system of water bodies for last 10 years but the PFF activists had been threatened either to stop their struggle for fishermen's welfare or face consequences. “Now Sujawal has become a no-go area for PFF activists and life of its chairman Mohammad Ali Shah is in danger too,” they said.

They appealed to the SHC chief justice, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and rights groups to take serious notice of vandalism and violation of high court’s orders allegedly by the fisheries minister, his brother Shaukat. They called for an end the illegal occupation of over 600 lakes and restoring them for the fishing communities so that their source of livelihood could be protected.

The representatives sought protection for the PFF chairman and other activists from the government.

The PFF chairman told journalists that Malkani, who being the fisheries minister is responsible for safeguarding interests of the fishing community, is himself responsible for the illegal occupation of freshwater bodies.