An anti-terrorism court (ATC) awarded life imprisonment to Baba Jan, formerly a member of the leftist Labour Party, and 11 others for ransacking a police station and damaging government property in Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) in 2011.
Jan is the vice president of Awami Workers Party (AWP) which formed after three leftist parties merged in 2012: Labour Party, Workers Party and Awami Party. The rest of those convicted are activists of AWP’s youth wing, Progressive Youth Front.
Jan has been associated with a movement demanding autonomy for G-B and at the very least an independently elected legislative body which allows for control over natural resources and the income generated from them.
Right to protest
On August 11, 2011, 25 out of the 457 families whose land had been destroyed by the formation of Attabad Lake took to the streets and demanded compensation. In the end, the police ended up using tear gas and then live ammunition to disperse a group of protesters in Aliabad.
The police action was taken to clear Karakoram Highway for Chief Minister Mehdi Shah, who was visiting the valley, to pass through.
Two of the protesters—Afzal Baig and his father Sherullah Baig—were shot dead and riots erupted in Hunza Valley. Protesters are said to have torched government offices and looted a police station in Aliabad.
Police registered a case and arrested over a hundred suspects. A judicial probe was conducted, however, the report was not made public.
On Thursday, ATC judge Raja Shehbaz Khan exonerated five of the 17 people booked in the case. They have been identified as Irfan Karim, Salman Karim, Ahmad Khan, Ghulam Abbas and Ameer Ali.
According to the judgment, Justice Raja Shehbaz Khan said the prosecution had proved the other 12 accused guilty of vandalising property, attacking public servants, ransacking arms and ammunitions from the police station. The ATC judge also imposed a fine of Rs100,000 on each convict.
Some of the people who were sentenced have been identified as Iftikhar Hussain, Irfan Ali, Baba Jan, Aleemullah Khan, Sher Khan, Rashid Minhas, Sarfraz, Musa Baig and Shukrullah Baig.
Advocate Ehsan Ali, the counsel for the defendants, said the decision was predictable but insisted they would file an appeal.
“We knew this was going to happen as courts in the region aren’t independent,” he told The Express Tribune. He added the arrests and convictions had been conducted on an arbitrary basis since the mob comprised over a thousand protesters that day.
“Their only crime was that they organised demonstrations against the police who fired and killed a father and son who were demanding their rights,” said Ehsan Ali. The advocate urged the government to hold police officials responsible for the incident.
Ehsan Ali also criticised the government’s decision to not make the enquiry report public.
In 2013, Baba Jan had demanded a judicial enquiry of the incident conducted by Justice Mumtaz Alam be made public and those responsible must be brought to justice.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2014.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Baba Jan was a member of the Progressive Youth Front. This has been corrected. The error is regretted.