Baloch protesters rounded up in brutal overnight action

Published December 22, 2023
Women protesters are seen packed in a bus, guarded by cops, outside a G-7 police station on Thursday night.—Mohammad Asim
Women protesters are seen packed in a bus, guarded by cops, outside a G-7 police station on Thursday night.—Mohammad Asim

• Despite minister’s claims that 90 per cent of protesters released, several still remain in custody
• IHC seeks police report on protesters’ plea against unlawful detention
• Demonstrations erupt across Balochistan against crackdown on long march

ISLAMABAD: After the capital’s police used force to disperse and detain Baloch demonstrators, who had converged on the capital to protest against enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings in their province, the federal government claimed that more than 90 per cent of the demonstrators — including all women and children — had been released by the police.

The claim stood in stark contrast to scenes that unfolded later on Thursday night outside the Women Police Station, when cops could be seen shoving women into buses to send them back to Quetta.

After exhaustive talks with protesters that continued late into the night, authorities decided to postpone their ‘repatriation’ until Friday, when the protesters are also likely to be presented in court.

The protesters were adamant they would not budge unless all of them — including the ones booked in FIRs — were released. Outside the police station, two buses crammed with Baloch women were parked, guarded by around 100 police officials. However, their departure was also held up by low visibility on the motorway.

“First, the police said in the High Court today that they only had one Baloch woman. Then they said the 19-20 women they had were released and now they’re shoving 50+ women onto buses forcibly expe­lling them from Islam­abad,” Imaan Mazari-Hazir, counsel for the Baloch protesters, wrote on her X account, accompanied by a video of pol­ice forcing women into buses.

The day’s events were set in motion by the late night police action against protesters in different areas of Islamabad, when around 200 people were taken into custody. The families of Baloch missing persons who had been camped outside the National Press Club since November 26 also faced similar treatment.

Amid reports of a crackdown on protesters near Chungi No.26, those outside the press club attempted to march towards the Red Zone, but were met with police batons and tear gas, followed by detention. Due to the shelling, many people were hospitalised. The police, however, detained them from hospitals — Polyclinic and Pims — and moved them to police stations. Police also raided the homes of Baloch individuals living in different sectors, including Sector I-10, and rounded up several people.

90pc protesters released

Before these scenes, a press conference addressed by a trio of caretaker ministers — Fawad Hassan Fawad, Murtaza Solangi, and Jamal Nasir — was told that all women and children had been released, except for the men who ‘could not be identified’ by police.

“Those who had not been identified would be freed on Friday after the completion of an inquiry being conducted on the directives of the IHC.”

Privatisation Minister Fawad said that following the late-night crackdown, the caretaker PM had formed a committee to negotiate with the protesters. “We, being the members of the committee, rushed to the demonstrators and as a first step got the children and the women released,” he added.

“The [Baloch] protesters were sitting outside the National Press Club for the past 23 days and the government had not taken any action against them,” the minister said, adding that police had confirmed that protesters who had come from Balochistan had not caused any disturbance.

“Some miscreants had entered the demonstration and hurled stones at the police officials, who were preventing the demonstrators from entering the Red Zone,” he claimed.

‘50 missing’

On the other hand, the counsel for Baloch protesters informed the IHC that more than 50 Baloch women protesters ‘went missing’ on Wednesday night, following the police action. During the hearing of the petition seeking the release of detained protesters, Attaullah Kundi and Imaan Mazari argued that they were exercising their right to protest, but the police arrested them without any tangible reason.

After an initial hearing, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq summoned IGP Akbar Nasir Khan, who denied that police had women or children in custody. He claimed that 16 women were taken into custody, but they were released after a brief detention. The IGP claimed protesters forcibly tried to enter the Red Zone, upon which they faced police action.

Citing security concerns, he recalled recent acts of terrorism in other cities and recalled that a suicide bomber was arrested last year near Christmas. Justice Farooq remarked that “as long as they are Pakistani citizens, they can stage protests. They are not terrorists.”

The IGP replied that the police asked them to continue the protest in front of the National Press Club and did not take any action until they reached Ayub Chowk and allegedly started pelting policemen with stones.

He said 215 were booked in the FIRs registered in Tarnol and Khanna police stations. At this, Justice Farooq asked what charges the police invoked against the protesters. “Did the police nominate them in a mechanical manner,” he inquired. “Are these offences bailable?”

Director Law Tahir Kazim replied that the protesters were booked under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code, all were bailable except Section 395 (armed robbery). He said that the protestors taken into custody from the jurisdiction of the Tarnol police station were not booked under Section 395 and the judicial magistrate had already issued the order for their release.

The IHC CJ asked the representatives of the protesters and their counsel to approach the Islamabad SSP (Investigation) to record their version and sought a report from the police today.

Protests against crackdown

In a protest against the treatment meted out to the protesters, sit-ins were staged in Quetta and other cities of Balochistan. The highways linking Balochistan with Karachi and other areas remained blocked causing traffic suspension between Quetta and Sindh, while the worst traffic jam was experienced by the people of Quetta due to protest rallies and sit-ins in different areas. Protests were also held in Gwadar, Khuzdar, Kalat, Noshki, Kharan, Washuk, and Sibi.

BNP-M President Akhtar Mengal denounced the crackdown on Baloch protesters and asked the Balochistan governor — Abdul Wali Kakar — to rush to the federal capital for the release of the demonstrators, who had travelled from Turbat to Islamabad. He said if the efforts to the governor turned futile then he should tender his resignation to the president.

Mohammad Asim in Islamabad, Behram Baloch in Gwadar, Abdul Wahid Shahwani in Khuzdar, Ali Jan Mangi in Dera Murad Jamali, and Saleem Shahid in Quetta also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2023

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