Amnesty, Rights Forums Seek Probe into death of Karima Baloch

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Karima Baloch was listed by the BBC in its 100 most inspirational and influential women of 2016 for her work in human rights. Baloch is the second Pakistani dissident from Balochistan living in exile to be found dead this year…. Reports Kaliph Anaz

Amnesty International and prominent civil rights organisations in Canada seek probe into the death of exiled Baloch leader Karima Baloch, 37, in Toronto.

A joint statement issued by the Baloch National Movement, Balochistan National Party-Canada, World Sindhi Congress-Canada, Pashtun Council Canada and PTM Committee Canada, said the circumstances led to her death is suspicious.

“The death of activist Karima Baloch in Toronto, Canada is deeply shocking and must be immediately and effectively investigated,” the Amnesty International said in a statement. “The perpetrators must be brought to justice without recourse to the death penalty.”

Karima Baloch went missing on 20th December 2020, before she was found dead on Toronto Island. The Toronto Police has said that the death of Karima Baloch will be investigated as a non-criminal death and there are any suspicious circumstances.

“We believe that given the threats to her life by Pakistani authorities because of her political activism, a much thorough investigation into the murder of Karima Baloch is needed,” the joint statement added.

Karima Baloch, 37, was listed by the BBC in its 100 most inspirational and influential women of 2016 for her work in human rights. Baloch is the second Pakistani dissident from Balochistan living in exile to be found dead this year. In May, Sajid Hussain, a journalist who wrote about human rights violations in Balochistan, was found dead in a river in Sweden, where he had sought asylum after threats to his life in Pakistan, the Guardian reported.

Baloch’s husband, Hammal Haider, also a Pakistani activist living in exile, said she had left home at midday on Sunday for a walk on Toronto’s Centre Island as she often did, but never returned. Toronto police later put out an appeal for information on Twitter and her body was found on Monday on the island.

“I can’t believe that it’s an act of suicide. She was a strong lady and she left home in a good mood,” Haider told the Guardian. “We can’t rule out foul play as she has been under threats. She left Pakistan as her home was raided more than twice. Her uncle was killed. She was threatened to leave activism and political activities but she did not and fled to Canada.”

Lateef Johar, a Baloch activist and close friend in exile in Canada, told the Guardian the police had said Baloch’s body had been found near a body of water. “The police have not provided any further details. They have not told us the cause of death nor have they returned the body of Karima.”

Johar said he had met Baloch on Thursday at the University of Toronto, where they were both students. They talked on the phone on Friday. “I don’t think this is an accident or an act of suicide,” Johar said. “We all feel threatened here. Even after the killing of Sajid Hussain I fear when I find myself in a dark street.”

Since moving to Canada, Baloch had continued to be vocal about human rights abuses in her home province and across Pakistan. She regularly spoke at conferences, addressed the media and attended protest rallies in Canada.

“She had received threats from unknown Pakistani numbers on WhatsApp after a few Baloch students were abducted in late 2017,” said Johar. “Those threats also mentioned me. She was asked to come back to Pakistan and told that if she comes back, the cases against her would be quashed and those abducted students would be freed.”

The Swedish authorities ruled out foul play in the death of Hussain but an autopsy did not confirm an exact cause of death. A friend of the family who has seen the autopsy report and police investigation told the Guardian: “The family was not convinced by the investigation and they have requested for more evidence from the Swedish authorities. Their request has yet to be entertained.”

Karima Baloch identified herself as a Human Rights Activist and had served as the Chairperson of Baloch Students Organisation Azad. While in Pakistan, she was a fierce voice against the militarisation of Balochistan, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial murders of Baloch people.

“The murder of Karima Baloch has reminded us the cold-blooded murder of Sajid Husain, a Baloch journalist forced into exile in Sweden after covering violence, crime and a simmering insurgency in Pakistan,” the joint statement said.

Sajid was found dead on 23rd April, 2019 in north of Stockholm, after remaining missing for more than a month.

Baloch are one of the most persecuted groups in Pakistan. Thousands of people have disappeared without trace in Balochistan since 2007. A military-led operation was launched in early 2005 aimed at wiping out the uprising by ethnic Baloch groups, who are fighting for a greater share of the province’s resources.

Hundreds of Baloch political activists in order to avoid persecution escaped from Balochistan and are compelled to seek asylum in other countries. The dissidents and critics of the Pakistan authorities, who are living in exile are under constant fear with the increasing threats and attacks on them during the exile.

“We believe that the international community has a responsibility towards the protection of the exiled activists,” the Baloch leaders said in the statement. “While we take immense pride in Canada’s long record of taking courageous stance against all kinds of violations against Human Rights anywhere in the World and Canada’s image as one of the safest places for refugees and asylum seekers, any lack of a concrete action to this end might jeopardize the global image/reputation Canada has.

“Therefore, we urge the government of Canada to undertake immediate and thorough investigation, bring perpetrators to justice, and take just diplomatic and political course of action in cases any foreign country or group were found to be involved behind this brutal murder of this human rights activist.”

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