Kaswar Klasra
Kaswar Klasra is Islamabad based freelance journalist with 13 years of experience of working for print, electronic and online media. His work has been published by India Today, Firstpost, XINHUA, South China Morning Post,Al Arabiya English, Mail Online etc
Stories by Kaswar Klasra
 31 Aug, 2019

Pakistan-run Kashmir faces human rights crisis

Law enforcers continue the covert crackdown on dissent in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in Pakistan administered Kashmir. Over a hundred activists have been charged with sedition for demanding greater self-rule in the disputed territory, which is of great importance to Pakistan's alliance with China. The arrested lot include students, social workers and political activists. Currently, over 100 activists are languishing in jails and lock-ups across the territory. Baba Jan, one of the prominent activists who are currently jailed by authorities, said his only crime was to seek basic human rights for the residents of GB, as per a family member who met him. GB borders China, Afghanistan, and India. China Pakistan Economic Corridor, an infrastructure project worth more than $50 billion, connects China to the deep seaport of Gwadar in Pakistan through the region. However, the locals are yet to benefit from the road and infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars. Pakistan is yet to grant full constitutional status to GB. Since it is not an official province, the residents cannot vote in the national elections. Freedom of speech and expression are also limited in the regions. “Let me tell you, the government of Pakistan will have to give constitutional status to the people of GB very soon. We will enjoy the freedom of expression and speech like first-class citizens of any state do around the globe,” the family member quoted Baba. The Inqilabi Socialists Karachi (ISK), a leftist group based in Gilgit with branches and activists across Pakistan, alleged that crackdown continues across GB and no end is in sight. “Law-enforcement agencies are on a rampage across GB. Even activists are being silenced for uploading pictures and posts on social media. Freedom of expression has been compromised while an atmosphere of fear prevails over the horizon of the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Not sure who the next target is,” Bilal Balti, a member of ISK, told 101Reporters. Baba Jan, a leftist political activist, is currently serving a life sentence after an anti-terrorism court convicted him of provoking and participating in a protest against the killing of a disaster-affected man and his son by the police on August 11, 2011, at Aliabad Hunza in GB. Human rights organisations have long demanded his release. An international petition for his release has been signed by philosopher Noam Chomsky, political activist Tariq Ali, and anthropologist David Graeber. On February 13, 2018, the police arrested Ehsan Ali, a well-known lawyer and activist from GB. Ehsan, the president of the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court Bar Association, was also representing Baba Jan in court. His arrest sparked countrywide protests and he was released soon after. Ehsan was arrested for allegedly sharing a derogatory post on social media. The News, a leading English daily, described his arrest as ‘crackdown on activists’ in one of its editorials. “Yet one more arrest of a well-known lawyer and rights activist in Gilgit-Baltistan has highlighted how the Pakistani state continues to arrest activists working for human rights. Ehsan is the lawyer representing popular GB leader Baba Jan, who remains in jail on anti-terror charges and was prevented from contesting elections earlier last year. The Baba Jan case has become a symbol for how the Pakistani state treats dissent, and GB and other peripheral regions in the country. Jan was one of the campaigners asking for compensation for those affected by the formation of the Attabad Lake. He is now serving a life sentence in prison for allegedly instigating riots. The charges themselves have been seen as politically motivated and, in any case, are clearly exaggerated.” According to the 2018 Human Rights Watch’s report on Pakistan, a climate of fear continues to impede media coverage of abuses both by government security forces and militant groups. “Journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship in 2018, after threats and attacks from militant groups. Media outlets came under pressure from authorities to avoid reporting on several issues, including criticism of government institutions and the judiciary. In several cases, government regulatory agencies blocked cable operators from broadcasting networks that had aired critical programs,” the report noted. Locals in GB have been asking Islamabad to grant rights similar to those enjoyed by the Pakistani citizens. However, governments in Pakistan have been putting off the merger of GB with Pakistan for decades. “Pakistan fears that delinking GB from Kashmir will compromise her stance on the issue which may help India gain grounds,” Ehsanullah Kakar, a social activist based in Islamabad, told 101Reporters. Pakistan’s policy of governing GB with ad-hoc ordinances was first started by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto after she issued a legal framework ordinance (LFO) in 1994 to establish the first assembly in GB. In 2007, General (currently retired) Pervaiz Musharraf issued another LFO in 2007 as the Chief Executive of Pakistan. In 2009, the then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani issued an empowerment and self-governance ordinance, which was subsequently replaced by Nawaz Sharif’s reformed package in 2018. The ordinances and packages had no constitutional protection and therefore failed to grant locals citizenship or representation in the parliament. “I have a Pakistani Identity card. Sadly, I can’t vote to choose my prime minister or representative in Pakistan’s National Assembly,” said Sohail Amin, an assistant professor at government-run college in Islamabad, who is originally from Hunza in GB.

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Pakistan-run Kashmir faces human rights crisis

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