LAHORE: Human rights activists and various student bodies on Tuesday reminded the state of its responsibilities towards its citizens and demanded immediate release of all the missing persons in the country besides action against their abductors.
On the occasion of International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, observed annually on Aug 30, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) organised a protest outside the press club here that was attended by dozens of rights defenders and student organisations. The commission had also affixed, inside sacks of cement, an installation, placards bearing pictures of several missing persons, the places they disappeared from and the dates of their disappearance.
The demonstrators shouted names of each of the missing persons whose photos featured at the gathering and demanded their release. They were holding posters inscribed with slogans such as ‘Frontier Corps should immediately vacate Pashtun regions’, ‘Har shehri ka tahaffuz riyasat ki zimmadari hai’ (the state is responsible for protecting every citizen), ‘Release all Pashtun missing persons’, ‘Ali Wazir ko reha karo’ (Release Ali Wazir) among others. Some of the slogans the demonstrators were shouting demanded release of all missing persons, including Baloch, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Punjabis, and that enforced disappearances be declared illegal.
Addressing the occasion in Punjabi, Amjad Saleem Minhas from Punjab Lok Sangat said it had been a longstanding demand that if a person had committed a crime he/she should be presented before a court, a case should be registered and, if a crime was proved, punished under the law.
“If a state just abducts a person, it shows that it is too weak to proclaim the commission of a crime. This means there are certain elements within the state that consider themselves above the law. We condemn such lawlessness and extra-constitutional steps. From the heart of Punjab and Pakistan, Lahore, we stand with our Baloch and Pashtun brothers and everyone picked up unlawfully, and demand their release,” Minhas added.
Raja Ashraf from the HRCP said over 1,100 people from Balochistan and over 1,400 people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were missing or they were subjected to forcible disappearance. He also mentioned the case of journalist Mudassar Naru who, he said, had been missing for four years, and his wife was also found dead while campaigning for his recovery.
“There are people missing for even decades with no knowledge of their whereabouts. Their families don’t know if they’re even alive. No constitution or civilised state in the world can tolerate people being kept missing,” he said.
Muhammad Tehseen of the SAP-Pakistan mentioned that the HRCP’s local chapters were demonstrating in all big cities of the country simultaneously on the occasion.
“There’s a village with only 34 houses and there’s not a single house where someone isn’t missing. In Khuzdar and some areas, they freed some people out of whom some can’t even remember their names or recognise their families due to the treatment meted out to them. There is a need to declare this act of illegally picking someone up unlawful.”
He also questioned why those picking up innocent people could not be prosecuted.
Prof Raheemul Haque maintained it was important for voices to be raised from cities like Lahore.
“The nation cannot progress while people are being picked up. If there’s lawlessness, there will be no investment.”
Rubina Ghazal from the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement commented that if activists and other people were picked up, it’ll create fear in society.
“We demand the government and relevant institutes arrange meetings of families with their abducted relatives and simultaneously conduct investigations into the alleged crimes of the abductees.”
Riaz Khan Mehsud of the Pashtun Education Development Movement at the Punjab University, in a scathing address, called enforced disappearances a violation of law and the Constitution. He said that anyone who talked about the law and Constitution, rights and security, peace and justice was picked up in broad daylight.
“Enforced disappearances are an international crime started by former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf in 1999. A state has a social contract with a citizen that ensures rights to a person and the state is responsible for his/her security. Many Baloch, Pakhtun and Sindhi nationalists have been going missing for decades. Whoever demands peace, justice, security is picked up and kept in internment centres for years, and in some cases their bodies are sent back. This country and society will only function when law and constitution will prevail.”
He also mentioned how MNA Ali Wazir had been imprisoned in a ‘fake FIR’ for two years for, what he called, criticising terrorism, demanding peace and rule of law and Constitution.
Qaiser Javed of the Progressive Students Collective spoke about the missing persons bill whose passage was impeded. He also mentioned the case of Faheem Baloch, a publisher recently picked up form Karachi, and how his whereabouts were so far unknown. “If they’re so afraid of literature and education then they can eliminate education from this country too,” he said.
Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2022