Islamabad, October 11: A delegation of Awami Workers Party (AWP) held a meeting with Senator Afrasiab Khattak, chairperson of the Senate Sub-Committee on Human Rights on Thursday in Islamabad to intervene and provide justice to Baba Jan and eleven other political workers in Gilgit-Baltistan. These political workers were sentenced to life imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court in late September. The AWP delegation, led by party vice-president Dr. Farzana Bari and central information secretary Nisar Shah, apprised the Senator of the party’s plans to organize peaceful protests throughout GB as well as mainland Pakistan, contending that Baba Jan and his companions were the victims of trumped-up charges and that their only crime was to defend the rights of local communities and raise their voices against ecological destruction in the wake of the Attabad lake disaster in 2010.
The AWP leaders said that Baba Jan and three other activists had previously been detained in Gilgit Jail for over a year but the case against them was quashed having been proven to be politically motivated. However, their continued activism after their release, and their growing popularity in GB precipitated the concoction of yet another false charge against them, and the subsequent order by a local anti-terrorism court. The AWP stressed that Baba Jan and his companions have turned themselves into the authorities willingly because they are committed to non-violent political struggle and have a clear conscience about the fact that they have engaged in no ‘terrorist’ activity at any point since the landslides that led to the creation of the Attabad lake almost five years ago.
Responding to the delegation, Senator Khattak lamented the ongoing use of anti-terrorist courts against progressives in GB and indeed the rest of Pakistan, and promised to thoroughly investigate the case in the coming days. He noted that the Senate sub-committee on Human Rights had taken up the Baba Jan issue in the past and that it would so again so as to ensure justice for all aggrieved parties. Senator Khattak also promised full public disclosure about all matters related to the case, and tabling of a resolution in the Senate during the next session of the Upper House.
The AWP leaders welcomed Senator Khattak’s proposal to develop comprehensive proposals for a thorough overhaul of the colonial-type administrative arrangements in GB, and other regions such as AJK. They said that even after the reforms of 2009, there was only the pretense of representative rule in such peripheral zones, and in fact the Islamabad-appointed bureaucracy exercised actual power. As a result the judicial system is also badly compromised and there is simply no redress for political workers, and, for that matter, ordinary people who are virtually deprived of basic citizenship rights. The AWP delegation noted that in such situations, oppressed communities have a legitimate right to assemble and protest so as to compel a meaningful response from the authorities, and that the peaceful protest movement of the AWP and its sister organizations would continue until Baba Jan and his companions are released and the false charges against them withdrawn.