Baba Jan, ‘prisoner of climate change’ in Pakistan tortured


Letter of protest

May 3, 2012

To:

His Excellency Mr Abdul Malik Abdullah
High Commissioner for Pakistan
4 Timbarra Crescent, O’Malley
ACT 2606

parepcanberra@internode.on.net

Cc: Mr Azam Mohammed
Consul General for Pakistan
Level 7, 32 Martin Place,
Sydney 2000

parepsydne@comcen.com.au

Dear Sir,

We have been informed by the Labour Party of Pakistan that Baba Jan, Waqar and other activists in Gilgit district jail were severely beaten and tortured by dozens of Rangers, Police and Frontier Constabulary in the early morning of April 28, 2012.

We are especially concerned for the fate of Baba Jan, who was taken from the Gilgit district jail by security personnel and transported to a place unknown.

We strongly protest against this violence and object to the prison authorities’ ban on visitors to these political activists. It would seem that the responsible authorities have failed in their duty to maintain safe custody of these persons. This kind of treatment of political activists should not be acceptable in a democratic Pakistan.

We are writing to request that that you pass on to your government our urgent request that Baba Jan, Waqar and all other activists be released from custody immediately and that the ban by Gilgit district jail authorities on vistors to these activists be lifted. Further, we ask you to please determine and advise us of the location of Baba Jan and any others taken from Gilgit district jail?

The Gilgit district jail authorities should publicly indicate the health status of each of Baba Jan, Waqar and the other activists – their families are also very worried. They are considered to be in dire need of medical assistance – something the authorities should facilitate. We request that they are immediately released and, if necessary, be promptly transferred to hospital.

We are extremely anxious for the safety of the above persons, and wish to have information as to their legal and health status as soon as possible.

We look forward to hearing from you soon about this matter as we are having emergency discussions with concerned prominent individuals, Members of Parliament in Australia, media and human rights organisations about future action on this case. Further, our European office is briefing organisations and MPS in that region about this concern.

There is a very broad layer of people around the world who are concerned about the fate of Baba Jan and his fellow activists because they are seen as political casualties of the deepening global climate change crisis. They are imprisoned for their roles in the campaign by poor local residents who were demanding compensation for the devastating landslide and flood in the Hunza Valley in 2010.

International flood relief campaigns for Pakistan have also increased public awareness of the situation. The success of future emergency appeals could be compromised if there were serious concerns that the victims of flooding and their advocates are being mistreated by Pakistani officials at any level of government.

For all the abovementioned reasons, it would be a good idea for the Government of Pakistan to act most promptly on this issue.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Boyle
National Co-Convenor
Socialist Alliance (Australia)

For background information see:

Free Waqar Campaign -Crusade goes cyber


Freny Manecksha | March 31, 2012, Times Crest

Kashmiri youths have, perhaps for the first time, initiated a global online campaign calling for the release of 23-year-old Waqar Ahmad Moharkan of Srinagar, currently being held under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The campaign is significant not just because the youths are directly appealing to the world but because their efforts challenge the chimera of normalcy in the Valley. Activists in Kashmir have been hankering for a repeal of PSA and for the release of Amnesty International’s report ‘A Lawless Law, Detention Under the Public Safety Act’ for a year now, but this security legislation continues to be deployed against dissenters and protesters.

The website, www. savewaqar. org, started by a group that calls itself ‘Friends of Waqar’ recounts how the final-year B. Com student of Islamia College, Srinagar, was arrested by the police on October 1, 2011 for participating in protests in Lalbazar. Even though he was granted bail on October 23 he was not released. He was immediately rebooked instead and shifted to Central Jail on November 5 under a 10-day judicial remand. A case under PSA, which allows preventive detention without trial for two years, was slapped against him. This effectively means Waqar is being denied a trial.

Waqar’s father filed a writ petition in the court last week for enforcement of legal, fundamental and constitutional rights. It states that the detention was ordered by a district magistrate on the basis of a letter by the senior superintendent of police and material on record. But when a copy of the letter and the material were demanded by the detainee, they were denied and he was not able to make an effective representation against it. Therefore, argue Friends of Waqar, the “impugned order of detention is legally invalid”.

The website says that Waqar was illegally detained for two days at the interrogation centre at Air Cargo Building near the police station Shergari.

Curiously, on November 6, a news item published in the leading Urdu daily Aftab, cited Waqar’s name as among the 30 youths who had been released and handed over to their parents on the direction of an amnesty declared by chief minister Omar Abdullah.

However, last week, the home secretariat refused to give a copy of the list to a group of youths who seeking answers. In a written reply under the Right to Information Act, the J&K home department said none of the protesters had been granted amnesty.
On December 11, Waqar’s father received a call from the concerned police station informing him that his son was being shifted to Kotbhawal Jail, 300 km away from Srinagar, making it very difficult for the family to visit him.

Waqar’s case, which has been taken up by Mian Abdul Qayoom, president of the J&K High Court Bar Association (also detained under PSA in 2010), is a copybook example of what has been well documented in Amnesty International’s report. The pattern of his arrest – failure to pursue criminal charges, subsequent application of PSA, violations of even the PSA stipulations, and illegal confinement at the infamous “cargo” – mirrors that of hundreds of others. It is precisely this pattern, which impelled Amnesty International to declare in its report that “administrative detention under the PSA continues to be used in J&K to detain individuals for years at a time without trial, depriving them of human rights protection otherwise applicable in Indian law”.

Another feature in common with other PSA detainees is that Waqar’s detention order is couched in vague language, without alluding to any specific crimes. According to the website the “baffling and ridiculous grounds of detention” cited in the order are: “You have frequently come in the adverse notice of the police for your involvement in anti-social activities aimed at disturbing the public tranquility and peace in the city. You are instrumental in mobilising the anti-social elements for creating havoc in so far as causing serious law and order problem is concerned which inevitably besides endangering human life also causes impediments in the smooth economic development of the state. Your said acts are aimed at keeping the state on boil and thereby bringing about secession of J&K from Union of India. It has also emerged that your such nefarious designs are being carried out in a well thought out manner to bring the whole Downtown area to a standstill. ”

Mir Shafkat Hussain, a lawyer who has successfully challenged scores of PSA detentions in the High Court, says that the lack of specific details and charges prevents detainees from challenging the order. This happens because even the basic norms under PSA are hardly ever followed. The detention is ordered either by the divisional commissioner or the district magistrate. In practise, these authorities merely ‘rubber stamp’ the police version. Shafkat Hussain says in his career he has come across only two district magistrates who took their role seriously and scrutinised the police version, sending it back if necessary.

Human rights activists say such arbitrary interpretation of PSA is becoming more common in the state’s attempts to quell dissent, which in recent years has changed from armed militancy to unarmed street protests. A number of young protesters and stone-pelters have been booked under PSA after the police failed to pursue criminal charges against them.

The death of another young PSA detainee, 22-yearold Sajad Ahmad of Sopore, on March 22 further highlights the alleged misuse of PSA. Sajjad Ahmad‘s family says that though he was in a bad shape after interrogation by the Special Operations Group, he was denied medical attention, flouting even the court’s instructions.

In such cases the state has often claimed that the protesters are goons who have been paid to throw stones or that they are being used by the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Even peaceful protests by Kashmir Students Union against the Amarnath land row and the controversy surrounding Shopian rape-murders were dealt with an iron hand. The union office on the campus was razed and a ban imposed on student activities.

The young men ask why youth elsewhere in India are treated differently. One angry student wondered how angry young men in Rajasthan or Haryana are permitted to block roads and rails in thousands. “Why are we denied any such space?” he asks.

‘Free Waqar’ online campaign- An example of Kracktivism


‘Free Waqar’ online campaign gains momentum

Amnesty International gives its stamp by recognising it as an instance of rampant police and state repression in Kashmir

 March 29 , Baba Umar 
New Delhi


Organisers of the global ‘Free Waqar’ online campaign launched from Kashmir to push for the release of a 22-year-old commerce student —Waqar Ahmad Moharkan—has won its first battle after Amnesty International (AI) termed the youth’s detention as “yet another depressing reminder of the lack of rule of law in Kashmir.” Waqar was reportedly captured by the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Police on 4 October, 2011, after they raided his Lal Bazaar house in downtown Srinagar and slapped him with the notorious Public Safety Act, 1978 (PSA) on charges that include participating in protests against government forces “for three years”.

In an email sent to TEHELKA, AI’s Govind Acharya (India Country Specialist) said the “widespread and abusive use” of administrative detention like the PSA and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) “reinforces the deeply held perception in young people like Waqar that police and security forces are above the law”. “Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the J&K government to release all PSA detainees or to charge them with a criminal offence,” Acharya tells TEHELKA.

The campaigners of the first-of-its kind online movement have literary taken the internet by storm having covered all social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter. Besides, a website freewaqar.org, created to draw more supporters, is fast becoming a rage among the youth in Kashmir and outside. On entering the site, a message reads, “Waqar Ahmad is in Indian jail since 176 days, 12 hours, 33 minutes and 20 seconds”—the duration of his imprisonment advances with every tick of the clock that’s live. And then details of Waqar’s passing from various jails after his arrest, petitions, bail order, and PSA document forms the body of the web page. The campaign reminds Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of his promises of granting ‘amnesty’ to 1200 youth arrested during and after the 2010 civil unrest.

A newspaper article published by the campaigners on the web page too shows Waqar’s name among 29 other youths who were to be released by the police on CM’s orders. Operated solely online, the campaign already on Facebook and Twitter (#FreeWaqar) is being pushed forward through petition sites such as ipetitions.com and change.org. ipetitions.com, however, decided to take the petition down citing “legal issues” as key reason.

“Within 24 hours of posting our petition we had nearly 500 signatures. The site, however, wanted to take down the petition giving us 48 hours of time to download the data,” one campaigner wishing anonymity tells TEHELKA.

petition meant for Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch (HRW) posted on change.org, however, has already crossed the 1000 signature mark. Posted by a Mumbai-based activist, the petition (reproduced from freewaqar.org) seeks AI and HRW’s intervention to “take up the case of Waqar’s wrongful, illegal and oppressive treatment at the hands of the Indian state.”

AI’s Acharya asserted such laws are “not in line with international human rights standards” and says that “We’ve repeatedly called on the J&K government to repeal the PSA and other similar administrative detention laws.”

Campaign organisers, who wish anonymity, tell TEHELKA that the campaign aims to educate people about “how Kashmir government can lie about releasing someone without actually doing it.”

Despite the courage, the campaigners fear police reprisals.

“Our efforts are not directed against anyone. We want the state to keep its word. Omar Abdullah had agreed to release him (Waqar), but instead they re-arrested him. The state chief minister had promised release of 1200 youth which he had called ‘mass amnesty’ in one of his statements. But students like Waqar are rotting in jails. Waqar was seized in Srinagar but has been detained 300 km away in Jammu’s Kotbalwal Jail. By this they are punishing the parents as well.”

It’s for the first time that an online campaign has come up seeking release of an individual. In Kashmir, online protests became a norm during the 2008 civil unrest. Angry protesters, mostly young, who would march across the streets of Kashmir demanding Azadi from New Delhi, had taken the battle to the online world too. Thousands of amateur and raw videos flashing long marches, troops’ action and killings went viral forcing the government to pull down some of the videos from YouTube that it considered were “highly critical” in nature. The challenge was thrown once again during 2009 protests over the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian province. And then in 2010, the civil unrest leading to the killing of over 125 people, mostly youth, at the hands of government forces, re-ignited the virtual campaign in Kashmir.

In Waqar’s case, the online battle is being fought using all forms of art. For example, on goanimiate.com, an animation ‘Faking Democracy-Free Waqar Now’ posted by ‘Kracktivist’ has already drawn more than 270 views. The two-minute-long animationposted on 16 March simulates an interview of an NBA player who is a supporter of Free Waqar Campaign and explains to the interviewer the rationale behind supporting the online movement.

With such anger brewing, how are the police looking at the campaign?

“We always monitor such activities,” a top police official tells TEHELKA over phone. He claimed that Waqar, apart from pelting stones, might also have participated in updating the prominent Facebook Kashmiri Community page Aalaw (The Call)—known for its fiery pro-Kashmir and anti-government posts, which went through many unsuccessful attempts at being blocked before.

“The investigation is on. We’ve found Aalaw was run by a group of four youngsters of which Waqar might be a part. We’re not 100 per cent sure but we are waiting for further details,” he claims adding, “The new campaign could be a part of the same tirade against the state.”

Caught in the crossfire, with the online campaign on the one hand and police warnings on the other, Waqar’s parents feel any sort of “malice” will hurt their son directly or indirectly. “Our family isn’t a part of this campaign. We don’t even know who is doing it. Their intentions may be good but yes, any malice will affect my son. I only want my son free. But look at the irony… I dropped my son to the police station on the promise that he’ll be released after brief questioning. Six months have passed, he still remains in detention,” says Waqar’s father Khursheed Ahmad Moharkan.

The elder Moharkan says if Waqar was leading stone pelting for three years, then what about lakhs of youths who pelt stone on Kashmir streets even now? He also mocks the charges slapped against Waqar. “Now that he (Waqar) is jail, stone pelting still takes place in Kashmir. Who are these people? Does my son incite them from jail? The police theory falls flat here. I am begging before them (police). They (police) better stop projecting my son as Osama bin Laden.”

Waqar’s father is, in the meanwhile, looking forward to 9 April when the state government will file objections in the Srinagar high court against the petition he has filed seeking quashing of the PSA against Waqar. “Let’s see what they have to show against my son. Myane Tarfe Chu Khudah (I’ve God on my side),” he says before hanging up the phone.

Baba Umar is a Correspondent with Tehelka. 
babaumar@tehelka.com

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