Baloch disappearances are back on the headlines in Pakistan this week as students from the community have set up a sit-in camp outside the Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi, demanding the release of Feroz Baloch, a 17-year-old student from Balochistan who was abducted from the university campus last month. The token-hunger strike camp has been set up to protest the harassment and racial profiling of Baloch students within university campuses in the country.
The development follows the release of Doda Ellahi and Ghamshad Baloch on June 14, the two Baloch students who were allegedly abducted from their home earlier this month in the port city of Karachi.
Ellahi and Baloch’s release came after a massive outcry on social media over the brutal police action against Baloch women and other peaceful protestors the previous day, June 13. Both were students at Karachi University and were from the Kech district in Balochistan.
Strongly condemn the beating & arrests of Baloch women & men by state authorities in Karachi, who were protesting peacefully against the abduction of fellow Baloch students. State has no more patience for the oppressed nations peaceful protests.#ReleaseDodaAndGamshad
— Manzoor Pashteen (@ManzoorPashteen) June 13, 2022
Sindh police dragged protesting Baloch women before taking them away. The women had gathered near the Sindh Assembly and were peacefully protesting for the release of Doda Elahi and Ghamshad Murid, Karachi University students abducted on June 7, and other Baloch missing persons. pic.twitter.com/f7nAkjFG0z
— Balochistan Times (@BaluchistanTime) June 13, 2022
The families of the two missing students had organized a peaceful sit-in outside the Karachi Press Club the day they were abducted. The Karachi police reportedly manhandled and arrested 28 protesters, including women, who were staging a demonstration outside the Sindh Assembly against the alleged abduction of the two.
According to videos that were shared on social media, many protesters were beaten with batons, while the women were dragged and pushed into police vans. General Secretary of the Awami Workers Party (AWP), Khurram Ali, and journalist Fawad Hazan, who had also joined the protest to support the families in their cause, were also among those arrested.
Taking to Twitter, Amnesty International called for the immediate release of the missing students and condemned the “use of excessive force”. The organization stated that “violently cracking down on families demanding answers to the whereabouts of their loved ones only compounds the cruelty of the heinous practice of enforced disappearances.”
Even after the recent change of regime in Pakistan, there has been little respite for the families of missing Baloch youth. On May 24, when the Baloch Yakjehti Committee and the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) were going to jointly lead a protest rally from the Karachi Press Club to the Sindh Chief Minister’s house to raise the demand for the release of missing Baloch persons, the Sindh government imposed Section 144, banning political gatherings and rallies.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a statement on its Twitter handle expressing “concern over the continuing harassment of Baloch students and women in Karachi.” The national body also stated in strong terms that such incidents and intimidation of the Baloch people can make them “feel like aliens in their own country” instead of solving their grievances.
Attacks on Baloch students on the rise
In recent months, there has been a rise in the cases of enforced disappearances of Baloch students across Pakistan.
HRCP is seriously concerned by the continuing harassment of Baloch students and activists—including women—in Karachi. We reiterate strongly that the legitimate grievances of the Baloch people cannot be addressed by continuing to make them feel like aliens in their own country. pic.twitter.com/CMdxSCWzcg
— Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (@HRCP87) May 25, 2022
In February, Hafeez Baloch, a student of the Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) in Islamabad, was picked up by security forces from his hometown of Khuzdar. He was booked for terrorism weeks after his detention without a first information report (FIR), and remains behind bars today.
Many believe that a high number of disappearances and attacks on Baloch men and women are based on suspicions linked to a suicide bomb attack at the Karachi University on April 26, which was carried out by a Baloch woman identified as Shari Baloch.
Shortly after the blast, Bebagar Imdad, a student of the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) in Islamabad, was picked up from a hostel of the Punjab University on April 27. He was later booked by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), Karachi, in connection to the Karachi University attack and was only released on May 10 after all charges against him were dropped.