IHC To Hear Today Petition Against Arrest of Baloch Long March Participants

The arrest of dozens of peaceful Baloch activists, who were denied entry into Islamabad, has been condemned by rights groups who have demanded the immediate release 

IHC To Hear Today Petition Against Arrest of Baloch Long March Participants

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) was on Thursday moved against the arrest of the organizers and dozens of participants of the Long March Against Baloch Genocide. The court has fixed the petition and is expected to hear the case later today.

A petition in this regard was filed by Imaan Zainab Mazari on Thursday morning, requesting the high court to urgently hear the case today. The petition listed the federal interior ministry, the Islamabad Police Inspector General, the Islamabad Deputy Commissioner (DC) and the SHOs of different police stations in Islamabad as respondents. 

The petition was lodged after Islamabad police, in late-night action, arrested dozens of Baloch activists who had marched from Turbat to the federal capital to join an ongoing protest outside the National Press Club in the city. The activists were initially blocked from entering the city and later arrested. The arrests were condemned by rights groups.

Thursday's petition requested the IHC to declare the acts of the respondents, which denied the Baloch protesters the right to free speech and assembly, as illegal and unconstitutional. 

The petitioner also requested the IHC to direct the administration to immediately release the unlawfully detained protestors. 

The IHC was also requested to direct the respondents to furnish copies of FIRs registered against organisers and participants of the long march. 

The petition contains the names of the 86 protestors who had been arrested, including men, women, students, the elderly and minors.

"Key among the march organizers and participants is Mahrang Baloch, who is
allegedly being detained at the Ramna Police Station, along with at least nine other women, 15 men and one child (namely Ali Sher), without any charge," the petition contended. 

"Such heavy-handed tactics by the government/public functionaries are routinely adopted against Baloch youth, women and the elderly who travel from various parts of Balochistan to the federal capital solely for their grievances to be heard," the petition stated, adding that such brutal repression of legitimate grievances of persons belonging to Pakistan's most marginalised Province may result in catastrophic consequences for the integrity of the federation.

The petition contended that the IHC has been vested by the Constitution with wide powers under Article 199 to require any person acting on behalf of the state to do something which he/she is required by law to do or to refrain anyone from doing anything which is not required by the law.

The IHC was informed that the Long March Against Baloch Genocide was a grass-roots movement led primarily by Baloch women and youth and organised by the Baloch Yekjehti Committee (BYC), which had travelled from Khuzdar to Quetta, then to Kohlu, Barkhan, DG Khan, Taunsa Sharif, and Dera Ismail Khan, finally arriving in Islamabad on the evening of December 20. 

"Further, families of several forcibly disappeared persons have also been whisked away to undisclosed locations, including Mahzeb Baloch (cousin of Rashid Hussain, whose Writ Petition No. 2684/2022 is pending adjudication before this court); Saira Baloch (who addressed this court on 29.11.2023 in Writ Petition No. 794/2022 about the forced disappearance of her two family members, Asif and Rasheed Baloch), Seema Baloch, and at least nine students, including at least two female students, namely Noor Jehan Baloch and Sadia Baloch."

Protesters who were part of the long march had arrived at the Islamabad Toll Plaza on Wednesday evening, only to be met with a huge contingent of armed police officials waiting for them. They blocked the further passage of these activists towards Islamabad, insisting that the protesters should, instead of going to the National Press Club to join an ongoing sit-in there, go to the F-9 Park.

"Simultaneously, the families of missing persons protesting for over 20 days outside National Press Club were also surrounded by police officials and threatened with arrest," the petition claimed.

"The petitioners, like all other peaceful protestors near the Toll Plaza and outside Press Club, being present in the sit-in demonstrations, fully observed the reasonability while exercising their right of freedom of expression and assembly," it said, adding that they had marched from Turbat to Islamabad like hundreds of other peaceful Baloch protestors, for the sole intention for their grievances to be heard by public functionaries.

"Instead subjected to indiscriminate use of force, while witnessing the arbitrary arrest of several Baloch youth, women and the elderly," the petition read.

It further contended that despite peaceful demonstrations carried out by the Baloch protestors, the Islamabad Police, without any lawful reason and justification, began to baton-charge and use water canons against unarmed protestors. 

"In the freezing cold temperature of the Federal Capital, mothers, daughters and sisters of the forcibly disappeared were subjected to the use of water canons simply for attempting to voice their long-standing grievances against the illegal and unconstitutional practice of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions." 

The petition contended that the "indiscriminate, arbitrary and excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel has violated the fundamental rights of the petitioners and other protestors whose rights of expression and peaceful assembly are protected in the Constitution."

The petitioners and other protestors claimed they had received information that some of the FIRs registered against them were terrorism-related but had been concealed to orchestrate further arrests of organizers of the long march. 

"It is the apprehension of the Petitioners and other organizers and participants of the March that under the garb of a sealed/secret FIR, a series of arrests and re-arrests may culminate to suppress legitimate grievances of the disillusioned and dehumanised people of Balochistan."

The petition was later fixed for hearing today with IHC Chief Justice Amir Farooq to take up the case. 

Rights groups condemn arrests

Rights groups on Thursday condemned the police and the state for heavy-handedness in the late-night arrests of peaceful Baloch protesters. 

In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that Baloch women, children, and the elderly were subjected to unwarranted force in the form of water cannons and the use of batons while several women protestors were reportedly arrested and separated from their male relatives and allies.

"This treatment of Baloch citizens exercising their constitutional right to peaceful assembly is inexcusable," adding that such behaviour reflects "how little the state thinks of the protesters' demand that their right to life and liberty be upheld."

"All those detained must be released unconditionally. Once again, we urgently call on the government to organize a delegation to meet the protesters and give their legitimate demands a fair hearing."

Amnesty International's South Asia Regional Office, in a statement, expressed deep concerns over the excessive use of force by law enforcement against the Baloch Long March protesters.

"Amnesty has reviewed videos showing water cannons, tear gas and batons being used against the protestors. Dozens have been detained and several others injured, including women, minors and elderly persons, violating their rights to liberty, security and protest," it lamented.

Amnesty International demanded that the government immediately release all protestors and drop any charges brought against them for solely exercising their right to freedom of expression and right to protest.

"Conduct an impartial investigation of all extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, particularly in Balochistan, in line with international standards," it demanded, adding that the state must "compensate families of victims of extrajudicial killings and those forcibly disappeared."

Earlier, while speaking to independent media outlets while waiting at the edge of Islamabad, Baloch long march leader Mahrang Baloch had raised the demand for the United Nations to investigate the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of the Baloch people because they had lost their trust in Pakistani state agencies.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain