The story of Baba Jan Hunzai

Published: May 14, 2012
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Baba Jan's story is not told in mainstream media but has slowly gained attention due to a concerted effort by activist groups. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID

About a month ago, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the world that there are no political prisoners in Pakistan. But allow me to bring to notice the case of a political prisoner who is close to me and one whom our government repeatedly tries to silence. His name is Baba Jan Hunzai. He is an activist for the Labour Party Pakistan and a leader of the Progressive Youth Front.

Baba Jan, along with four fellow activists, spent the greater part of last year languishing inside various jails throughout Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B). His story is not told in mainstream media but has slowly gained attention due to a concerted effort by activist groups on global and local levels.

In January 2010, when landslide debris blocked the flow of the Hunza River, thousands of people were displaced and over 25,000 were cut off from the country due to the sudden formation of a lake, now known as Attabad Lake. As the affected people protested the negligence of the state authorities, the government offered stipends to displaced residents. However, because over 100 of the 457 families did not receive any compensation, allegations of nepotism and favouritism swirled.

On August 11, around 200 residents carried out protests and it was during this period that the first reports of police aggression against protesters came to light. A 22-year-old protester, Afzal Baig, was killed alongside his father, Sherullah Baig, who also died while trying to retrieve his son’s body.

In the ensuing chaos and outpouring of public anger, Baba Jan later arrived to organise and direct the protests. Following assurances from the authorities, people refrained from further demonstrations.

But a week later, the authorities arrested Baba Jan and many other protesters and since then, Baba Jan, who is booked under section 780-A of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), has been subjected to cruel torture and unbearable conditions in prison.

In the backdrop of this case is the growing trend in which the ATA is specifically being used to target labour leaders and political activists. This has led to a deplorable situation where people campaigning for social justice are subject to counter-terror laws while militants committing heinous crimes roam free.

The government should release Baba Jan and other political prisoners if its efforts to democratise the state and society are to succeed.

Read more by Sher here.

sher.khan

Sher Khan

A Lahore based reporter for The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Nice that you have brought this up. It is clear that democracy and this government are poles apart. Democracy is simply being used as a slogan to hide behind because if what we see happening is democracy then ‘functional anarchy’ needs to be redefined. Recommend

  • farman

    Thanks Sher for highlighting the plight of Baba jan and his comrades in G-B jail. The main reason that caused third degree torture on these progressive youth activists by the intelligence and some sectarian bent police officials, was their efforts in exposing the “deep state” elements’ plan to divide the gullible mountain people on sectarian lines and fulfil their imperialist masters’ agenda. They were making efforts to create harmony among the jail inmates and that annoyed these officials. Recommend

  • sadiq

    This is an important issue. An update I heard six people were arrested due to section 144 imposed by the G-B authorities, trying to stop protests in favor of Baba Jan. Its important people raise there voice for Baba Jan.Recommend

  • http://tobateksinghdisplaced.wordpress.com Amanullah Kariapper

    Campaign update:
    The hearing in the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Court of the appeal against the rejection of bail by the Anti-Terrorism Court was scheduled to be held yesterday, Monday, 14th May, 2012.

    Eventually, it was postponed to today: Comrade Ihsan Ali is presenting arguments in court for award of bail for the Hunza Five.

    A collage of pictures from protests held on Sunday, 13th May, 2012 in Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Multan and Gujranwala is presented here.

    At the Lahore protest, we printed out and distributed copies of these information pamphlets (in Urdu and English). Friends in the campaign organising in other cities may find these useful in their work.

    Please sign the petition if you have not done so already: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/free-baba-jan/Recommend

  • Farooq Tariq

    Thank you Sher Ali for taking this important information ignored by most of the other commercial mediaRecommend

  • From SPN

    Dear All,

    A brief update on Baba Jan and Hunza five bail trail. Reports from Gilgit state that the bail hearing was adjourned after some preliminary remarks by Ihsan Ali, counsel for the Hunza Five. The court stated that some points of law mentioned by the counsel needed to be checked.
    The hearing will resume on 17th May, 2012.

    For more information please visit:

    https://freebabajan.wordpress.com/

    A recent article on Baba Jan appeared in express Tribune (it is pasted below also):

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/378389/solidarity-release-of-youth-leaders-sought/

    Also, please sign the petition on:

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/free-baba-jan

    You can download leaflets with details here:

    https://freebabajan.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/pamphlet-for-baba-jan-3/Recommend

  • Jibran Hayat

    Baba Jan is true and brave leader , He has been kept in prison so that growing influence of his party in Hunza region can be impeded which is direct threat to ppp leaders there, He is the only one who truly voiced the issues of Attabad disaster , and led the protest very well, Shame on our PPP leaders. Recommend