Nov 07, 2017

Balochistan: Pakistani Government Pressures TfL to Pull Advertising Campaign of WBO.

Photo Courtesy of World Baloch Organisation

Transport for London (TfL) has pulled an advertising campaign run by the World Baloch Organisation (WBO) on black cabs that read “Free Balochistan”.  The campaign launched last week attempted to draw attention to the war crimes and human rights abuses that Balochis face at the hands of the Pakistani government. However, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, Tehmina Janjua, saw the campaign as a ‘direct attack [on Pakistan’s] territorial integrity and sovereignty’, which she expressed in a meeting with Britain’s High Commissioner to Islamabad.  Baloch activists have expressed concern that the Pakistani government has used occurrences of violence in the region to oppress the entire independence struggle. Bhawal Mengal of the WBO states that the actions taken by the Pakistani government to try and stop the campaign is a direct attack on freedom of expression

Below is an article published by The Independent:

Transport for London has said "Free Balochistan" adverts put up by a human rights charity must be removed from black cabs in London.

The move follows an attempt by the Pakistani government to have the adverts removed, though TFL told The Independent the advert did "not comply with our advertising guidelines". 

The World Baloch Organisation, which advocates for rights of the ethnic Balochis who live in the Balochistan regions straddling Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, launched its campaign on London’s black cabs on Monday highlight the “war crimes and human rights abuses” of the Islamabad government.

It said the Pakistani government has put unfair pressure on the Foreign Office and Transport for London, which regulates black cabs, to remove the adverts.

The #FreeBalochistan adverts, which also carry slogans saying “Stop enforced disappearances” and “Save the Baloch people”, were launched as part of a campaign to increase awareness of the conflict in south-west Pakistan which has periodically flared up since Partition in 1947.

But the British High Commissioner in Islamabad was summoned to appear before the Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Tehmina Janjua, on Friday over the adverts which they said “directly attack its territorial integrity and sovereignty”.

A statement by the Pakistani Foreign Office, released to Pakistan Today, said: “The High Commissioner was informed that Pakistan, in line with the UN Charter, rejects actions and advertisements with malicious content that impinge on our sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“Pakistan is aware of the intentions of such sinister and malicious campaigns, which should not be allowed on the soil of a friendly country”.

The latest wave of the insurgency began in 2003 and has increased in ferocity with some armed groups carrying out terror attacks in the region.

The main independence movement has disavowed violence but said Pakistan was using the terrorism to justify oppressing the entire movement.

Bhawal Mengal told The Independent: “The bullying tactics of Pakistan are an attack on freedom of expression. They are an anti-democratic bid to censor the voice of the Baloch people and cover up the war crimes of the Pakistan army in Balochistan. This is a peaceful advertising campaign.

“Pakistan’s aggressive reaction is a bare-faced attempt to intimidate the UK government and Baloch human rights defenders. We do not believe the adverts violate any Transport for London policies. They are not political.

“Our advertising has a human rights theme similar to the adverts of Amnesty International in 2016 in support of the Human Rights Act, which were accepted by Transport for London. We will appeal against the ban.”

Balochis argue that they are ethnically and culturally different from the rest of Pakistan – the majority of whose population is made up of Punjabis and Pashtuns.

The Independent has contacted the Foreign Office and the Pakistani Embassy in London for comment.