- Created: Friday, 01 July 2016 15:43
- Written by FRFI
By Amjad Ayub Mirza
Thousands of residents of the Hunza Valley, Northern Pakistan descended on Nasirabad on 12 June 2016 in a remarkable show of class solidarity with a village that has given birth to a great revolutionary of our time, the Awami Workers’ Party Gilgit Baltistan leader, Baba Jan.
Baba Jan, along with eleven of his companions, is serving a 40 year sentence after being accused of rioting and inciting the public to violence and damaging public and private property in 2011 having been tried under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.
The accused were given 40 year rigorous prison sentences by the Baltistan Chief Court in Gilgit. The accused had pleaded not guilty to the charges, and their lawyers submitted an appeal in the higher court. On June 11 2016, the Supreme Appellant Court upheld the sentence. This has generated an enormous wave of condemnation and protest rallies have been organised in Gilgit, Pakistan and as far away as London and Leeds. It was in this context that the masses from the Hunza valley marched on foot to Nasirabad to show their solidarity with Baba Jan and the residents of the village.
The decision of the courts is a travesty of justice. By-elections were due in the Gilgit constituency of GBLA-6 since Mir Ghazanfar Ali, the representative elected from GBLA-6 was handpicked as Governor by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif. Ali then fielded his own son to contest the by-election for his seat on the ticket of the Pakistan Muslim League, the party that has formed the government in Pakistan after they won the 2013 general election. Baba Jan had stood against Ali in 2015 and received the second highest number of votes.
Since Baba Jan was in prison when the party decided to field him as a candidate, the establishment began to use all kinds of tricks to keep him out of the parliamentary race. First, a case was filed to bar him from contesting from behind bars. However, the court allowed Baba Jan to contest this case. Then a court petition was filed demanding that since the Baba Jan case was still under appeal, the elections should be postponed until after the verdict of the Supreme Appellant Court had been delivered. On 11 June, the verdict was issued and found Baba Jan and eleven others guilty and upheld the 40-year sentences.
Although Baba Jan began his political journey as a student activist in 1999, he emerged in national politics in 2010 when he raised his voice for those who were displaced due to the landslides caused by the 2010 floods in Gilgit-Baltistan. Five villages, home to 1,000 people, were completely destroyed. Baba Jan led the effective people’s struggle to gain compensation from the government. All but 25 families were granted compensation.
Baba Jan led protest rallies and held numerous press conferences to highlight the struggle and the demands of these 25 families for compensation. In August 2011, a protest rally was held in Gilgit on which the police opened fire, killing a father and a son. The following month, Baba Jan and scores of other of his fellow comrades were arrested on terrorism charges.
It is now a time when great anxiety prevails among the people of Gilgit and Baltistan who view the ‘constitutional’ actions of Pakistani state as a threat to Gilgit and Baltistan’s autonomous status. Resentment had already been festering among the populace who viewed the move as a ruse to provide legal cover to a multi-billion-dollar Chinese investment plan in the area. Baba Jan was also campaigning against the selling off of the natural resources of the region to Chinese companies.
While in prison, Baba Jan has worked for unity among Sunni and Shia prisoners, who are kept in separate sections of the prison. He was horribly tortured and his nails were pulled out. After thirteen months, Baba Jan was released on bail under the pressure of a vigorous campaign launched by his comrades and sympathisers across Europe and Australia. Baba Jan was suffering from acute psychological trauma and the persistent beatings has caused severe damage to his kidneys. Baba Jan was sent back to prison in 2014 when his bail expired. Later, the Anti-Terrorism Court awarded him a 71 year sentence in three different cases.
The by-elections for this seat which became vacant due to Ali becoming the Governor were scheduled for 28 May. Fearing a clear-cut victory for Baba Jan, the state machinery has delayed them for three weeks. Meanwhile, the Anti-Terrorism Court in Gilgit upheld the life sentence awarded to Baba Jan.It was in this context that thousands descended upon Nasirabad to show their support for Baba Jan.
Since the decision of the Supreme Appellate Court, protest rallies and public meetings have been held in Gilgit Baltistan, in Pakistan and internationally. Baba Jan and his eleven comrades who all are serving forty-year sentences, now are popularly referredto as ‘The Hunza 12’.
A peaceful protest is being held outside the Pakistani Consulate in Glasgow on 1 July at 14:30 to demand the unconditional release of Baba Jan and his fellow inmates.