Nov 15, 2013

Balochistan: Pakistani Media Called Upon To Break Silence Over Enforced Disappearances


In late-October 2013, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) began a 700-kilometres long march in the hope of raising awareness of the injustices suffered by the people of Balochistan. However, this initiative as well as the issue of enforced disappearances have largely been ignored by mainstream Pakistani media. In a protest against this silence, civil society representatives organised a solidarity walk in Islamabad on Sunday, 10 November 2013.

Below is an article published by The Express Tribune:

On October 27 [2013], a group of men, women and children led by Mama Abdul Qadir Baloch started a march from Quetta to Karachi on foot.

They believed the long march would highlight injustices suffered by the people of Balochistan and perhaps help secure the release of their loved ones and relatives — the “missing persons” — some of whom disappeared without a trace, allegedly detained by security agencies.

But as the 700-kilometre long march by the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), an organisation started by Baloch and others to demand justice for the missing people, enters its 16th day on Monday [11 November 2013], it has largely been ignored by the mainstream Pakistani media.

To show solidarity with the VBMP long march and raise awareness about it, around two dozen capital’s residents staged a demonstration in front of the National Press Club on Sunday [10 November 2013] and later marched from the press club to the F-6 Super Market, carrying placards and banners voicing their support for Balochistan’s people.

The solidarity walk and demonstration were organised by the Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA), a national youth-run organisation that works on human rights issues and also carries out disaster relief work.

The demonstrators called on the international and local mainstream media to break their silence over the VBMP long march and the missing persons issue in Balochistan.

Civil society representatives gathered at the demonstration said they were shocked by a media blackout of the long march. They said except for some opinion articles, independent blogs and reports by foreign media, there was no significant coverage of the march.

They said the demand to free missing persons is an issue for the survival of the federation. The demonstrators shouted slogans against state oppression in Balochistan and in support of the province’s people in their quest for fundamental rights and justice.

Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist who has been supporting the demand for the release of the missing persons since 2002, said it is “very sad” to see that when civil society and the affected families of missing persons take the initiative to bring the issue to light, the media do not cover it.

“The media are so obsessed and fixated with the Taliban,” Abdullah said. “It’s like nothing else equally important is going on in the country.”

She said the news media need to give proportionate coverage to Balochistan, sectarianism and the sharp rise in poverty in Pakistan.

There was some despondency among a few Islamabad demonstrators who said there does not seem to be hope for the missing persons to return alive. But the demonstrators agreed that civil society should raise its voice about the injustices and human rights violations.

Maryam Kanwer, director of the PYA, said the association is against illegal abductions and forced disappearances. “We demand that everyone be given a fair and judicial trial rather than illegal detentions and abductions,” Kanwer said.

She said the members of the youth alliance support the voice of the VBMP long march participants and consider it a historical march, which is continuing the precedent set by the Hazara community’s sit-ins in January to demand basic human rights and security for the oppressed in Pakistan.

According to updates on the VBMP long march on social media networks, the participants continued their march to Karachi from Sonaro in Balochistan on Sunday [10 November 2013]. Most of the participants have either a missing person in their families or have received the bodies of their abducted kin.

Baloch, a retired employee of a private bank, received his son Jalal Reiki ‘s bullet-ridden body in November 2011, almost three years after Reiki, who was the information secretary of a Baloch nationalist party, was picked up by the security agencies, according to Baloch.