GILGIT: The six-day-long sit-in staged in Aliabad near Hunza was called off on Saturday after the Gilgit-Baltistan caretaker government assured the protesters of release of 14 political prisoners within one-and-a-half months.
Thousands of protesters went to their homes after the end of the sit-in which was organised on the call of the Aseeran-i-Hunza Rihaee Committee, a body formed to push for the release of the incarcerated leaders.
Men and women protesters belonging to different political parties, including the PML-N, PPP, PTI, Awami Workers Party and religious parties, along with families of the imprisoned activists, had blocked the Karakoram Highway at Aliabad on Monday.
The candidates for coming GB Assembly elections from Hunza constituency had also joined the protest.
Activists were jailed in 2011 for ‘organising riots’ during protest over Attabad lake disaster
The imprisoned activists were arrested in 2011 during the protest over the Attabad lake disaster and later sent to prison by courts.
Ten people died and over 30 houses were destroyed in the Attabad lake disaster and the GB government had promised rehabilitation of the affected people.
After the GB government failed to meet the promise, the affected people of Attabad, with the support of political activists, organised a demonstration in Aliabad, the headquarters of Hunza district, on Aug 11, 2011.
Coincidentally the-then GB chief minister, Mehdi Shah, was scheduled to visit Hunza the same day. Police were trying to end the protest and to vacate Karakorum Highway when a clash erupted between protesters and police.
A man and his father died after police opened fire to disperse the protesters.
After the incident, police arrested over 400 political activists for allegedly damaging public property during the protest.
Fourteen of the activists, including Baba Jan, were accused of organising riots and sentenced to life imprisonment by the antiterrorism court of GB in 2011.
The review petition of the prisoners was rejected by GB Chief Court.
Their appeal in the GB Supreme Appellate Court against their conviction by the trial court has not been heard for the last two years as the post of one judge has been vacant there.
Octogenarian Abdul Mateen, who had participated in the sit-in, told Dawn that his son Rashid Minhas, 28, was among the 14 prisoners.
Mr Mateen said his son had recently been diagnosed with a heart problem and was under treatment at the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi under police custody. He said he had to sell his property for the sake of his son because the government was not paying his hospital bills.
He said that his son was not involved in any subversive activity, adding that misuse of the antiterrorism law against a peaceful citizen was not acceptable.
Firdus Khanam, the 69 years old mother of Shukorullah, another prisoner, said that her 32-year-old son was a labourer and the sole breadwinner in the family.
Shukorullah was sent to jail when his newborn son was just 25 days old, she said.
“One of the sisters of Shukorullah committed suicide as she could not cope with the grief of his brother’s prolonged imprisonment,” Ms Khanam said.
“My son is innocent and imprisoning him under terrorism law is injustice,” she said.
The protesters said that though many protests had been organised in the past and all political parties, religious, social and human rights organisations supported their stance, the government had paid no heed to the issue.
The protesters said that a judicial inquiry into the Alliabad incident which had declared all accused innocent had not been made public.
Meanwhile, political activists staged demonstrations in solidarity with the sit-in and for release of the prisoners in Gilgit, Skardu, Nagar, Astore and Ghizer on Saturday.
Negotiations were held between the representatives of the GB caretaker government and the Aseeran-i-Hunza Rihaee Committee to settle the issue. Caretaker ministers Abdul Jahan, Nasir Zamani, Mohammad Ali Khan, Johar Ali Raki and Rahimyar Baig and representatives of the committee participated.
The GB caretaker ministers accepted demands of the committee and agreed to ensure release of the 14 prisoners within 45 days.
Addressing the protesters, Mr Jahan said that legal procedure would be completed within one-and-a-half months to seek release of the 14 prisoners.
Under the agreement reached between the two sides, two prisoners will be released within a few days on medical grounds and the remaining within one-and-a-half months after fulfilling the legal requirements.
The GB government would file an application in the Supreme Appellate Court for proceeding the appeal of the prisoners before a two-judge bench.
Minister Zamani said the GB caretaker government would guarantee implementation of the agreement between the ministers and the committee, which had been signed in the presence of legal experts.
Addressing the protesters, president of the Ismaili Council, Hunza, retd Col Imtiaz and religious scholar Musa Karimi said that it was a success of peaceful protesters that their demands had been accepted.
They said that the families of the incarcerated activists had endured a lot of suffering as they spent nine years without their loved ones.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2020