The protest campaign by the relatives of enforced disappeared persons from Balochistan has recently gained momentum with sympathy and support pouring down from politicians and journalists.
The protesters have set up a camp outside the Quetta Press Club which has completed over 3,000 days.
The protest is being organized by the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, a group of relatives of Baloch missing persons.
The recent escalation in protests came by when 23 years old Seema from Awaran joined Mama Qadeer´s camp and sat in token hunger strike. Her brother Shabir Baloch, the Central press secretary of Baloch Students Organization, was forcibly disappeared from Gwarkop area in district Kech in October 2016. He was abducted along with more than twenty others. The others were released later, but Shabir is still missing.
The family filed an FIR (First Information Report) against the perpetrators but were denied and eventually they went to the court and filed a case. As usual, all these efforts went unattended.
After two weeks of hunger strike, Seema along with some other family members of missing persons arranged a small rally and marched to the Chief Minister´s House to urge the release of their loved ones.
The family members were manhandled by police as they were stopped from visiting Chief Minister’s House.
The protesting women and children were photographed crying helplessly by the activists and shared on the social media. As a result, people from all walks of life began expressing sympathy with the protesters. Many people also joined the protest.
Families of other forcibly disappeared persons started flocking to the camp one after another. Now the camp is brimming with women and children demanding the release of their loved ones.
1. Sultana Hozur Bakhsh, mother of once killed son found renewed hope
Imagine what will happen to a mother if her son is abducted in front of her eyes and imagine that mother is living in a war zone and the abductors are the state security forces. She does not hear a single word about his son for four years despite all her struggle. And then four bodies are discovered from a mass grave about fifty kilometers from her house. The bodies are decomposed beyond recognition. The government forces hurriedly get hold of the bodies and bury them, as if to hide a crime. The mother rightfully suspects that one of the dead bodies was of his son.
The mother has been requesting DNA test of the bodies to confirm if any of them belonged to his son. She sits in protest in front of the main military camp in Panjgur. After a few days she is escorted into the military camp and informed that one of the bodies was that of her son.
After four years of grueling wait, the family finally mourns their loss. The wife of the victim is informed of her widowhood. The pain of losing a loved one can be relieving in some cases in Balochistan. Perhaps, the mother was relieved by the thought that the son is dead and he no longer has to endure the torture by the military. After the mourning period the family tried to restart their normal life. But they receive another bombshell.
The security forces inform them that they had committed a mistake and that the Khair Bux among the four dead was not his son but another Khair Bux sharing her son’s name. The security forces took the courtesy to inform the mother that the “Khair Bux” the mother was looking for is still alive and in their torture cells.
2. Little Ansa weeps for her brother
Ansa Baloch is a ten years old student of class one. She is a sister of Amir Gurgunarhi. She skips the school every day to attend the protest camp. A picture of her breaking into tears while talking about her disappeared brother has gone viral on the internet.
Amir was a student in Quetta, capital of Balochistan. He went to his village in Kharan to spend his vacations with family. At around 01:00 local time, on 03 February, 2017, some 30 military vehicles came at their house and sieged the area. They took Amir, dragged him to one of the military trucks and left. No one has heard anything about Amir since then.
3. Dost Muhammad, abducted in 2012 from Karachi International Airport
Wife and mother of Dost Muhammad Baloch has also joined the protest camp. Dost Muhammad had been working in Oman armed forces. He went to Balochistan on his annual vacations in 2012. When he was going back to Oman, he was picked up from the Karachi International Airport in February 2012 and is missing since then.
The family has been running pillar to post to find any trace of Dost Muhammad. They tried to file an FIR against the abduction but police refused to register the case.
Dost Muhammad was picked up along with another friend. His friend was later released but he is still missing.
4. Saddam Bangulzai, the only bread-earner of the house
Miss Afia and Fatima joined the camp to raise the issue of abduction of their brother, Saddam Hussain Bangulzai. Saddam is student of English Department in Balochistan University. His father is a retired clerk and was expecting Saddam to take over the responsibilities of the household. Sisters say Saddam was the only bread-earner of the family.
He was picked up by security forces from his house, in front of the mother and sisters, in 2015 and never came back. His sister said in a video message from the protest camp that the entire family is slowly starving to death. There’s no one to feed the younger ones and “we did what we could to find our brother”. They begged “if Saddam is guilty of any crime, he must be produced in a court and trialed”.
5. Hafeezulla, family paid ransom to officials, but money was not enough
The protest was also joined by the family of Hafeezulla of Dalbanden Balochistan. He was abducted by security forces from the house of his cousin in 2016. His mother says:
“Major Naveed of Pakistan Army called us to pay ransom in return of Hafeez’s release. We sold out whatever we had and then we begged from house to house. We managed to collect 6.8 million rupees, which we paid to the Major. He promised that Hafeez would be released in a month. But when the month passed, he asked for another 5 million rupees. We don’t have anything left”. The mother pleaded, “If my child is guilty, he should be produced in a court”.
The Voice for Baloch Missing person’s camp is not new. It was set up a few years ago by the family members of the enforced disappeared persons. The protesters also came to limelight in 2013 when they marched from Quetta to Islamabad, some 2000 kilometers.