Baba Jan Hunzai a political activist and a former political prisoner from Gilgit-Baltistan was released from prison after a year of detention during which he claims to have faced torture while in police custody.
Jan also claims to have been illegally detained by the authorities on allegations of creating unrest inside the prison.
Jan’s detention story was associated with the little known separatist movement of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Formerly a member of the Labor Party of Pakistan and also a supporter of the separatist movement, Jan has now been made the Vice President of the Awami Workers Party - a new Leftist party born out of a merger of three political progressive parties.
Speaking to The Express Tribune about the current sectarian and human rights crisis in G-B, Jan appears to have toned down his stance on separatism as compared to a year ago. However, his emphasis on further autonomy for the G-B province remains the same.
He also said that the separatist movement, which flared incidents like ill treatment of affectees of Bhasha Dam construction, is small. However, according to Jan, the general public of Gilgit-Baltistan want an “independently elected legislative” assembly in the province, which would ensure that the natural resources like water and minerals of the province remain under the independent members of the assembly, and the revenue generated from them benefitting the locals.
The recent sectarian and human rights crisis in the area is seen by Jan as state-tolerated. He insists that despite heavy deployment of law enforcement personnel, when people are killed in the area, the suspects are never arrested.
Jan adds that Gilgit Baltistan has a secular history, and the sectarian violence in the region has historically only benefited the political elite, who “want to distract people’s attention from their economic and political rights”.
Jan and other activists of the region were arrested in 2011, along with journalists for criticizing the political appointments of senior judges.
That criticism still remains, and Jan insists that the higher judiciary has no structure and does not protect the constitutional rights of the people of G-B.
Jan cites the appointment of Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, an elected parliamentarian as Federal Minister Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan as a reflection how the will of the people of G-B is not a priority for the government.
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