Till death: Baloch protester continues hunger strike as missing person still not recovered

Latif Johar

On May 14, Baloch men and women in the country and across the world will observe a 12-hour hunger strike to express solidarity with Johar.

KARACHI: As Lateef Johar’s hunger strike enters its 21st day, the weak but determined young man is not ready to give up just yet.

“I will carry on my hunger strike till Zahid Baloch is recovered,” he says softly, referring to the abduction of the chairperson of the Baloch Student Organisation (BSO)-Azad from Quetta on March 18, allegedly by law enforcement agencies.

The 23-year-old activist is surviving on water only and has lost almost 18 kilogrammes during the strike. “My back hurts and my liver hurts,” he said. “I can’t sit for long. I have headaches when there is a lot of noise or when a large crowd is gathered here.”

Staying under a tent day and night, he starts his day by drinking water and then reads the newspaper. Johar also shows the other reading material that he has with him; writings of Mao Zedong and some magazines. “I try to read them but I often get headaches.”

Last week, the man fainted when police fired tear gas at some protesters near KPC and his camp also came under fire. “Some girls also fainted,” he said. “We were taken inside the press club, where we were given water and stayed inside for two hours.”

However, despite all the problems that he faces, Johar feels that they pale in comparison to the difficulties faced by the Baloch. “Our youngsters are not allowed to study,” he said. “Our brothers are abducted and go missing. I want our problems to be highlighted to the world.”

Without food, the young man might be quietly slipping towards death but he does not consider it suicide. “When revolutions take place, there are deaths and when someone struggles for something, and dies for it, it is not a suicide.”

When Johar has strength, he tries to use Twitter and Facebook and mobilise people for his movement. Politicians such as Muttahida Qaumi Movement MPA Irum Azeem Farooque and human rights activists such as Ibn Abdur Rehman and Ansar Burney have also visited him to offer their support.

“Every day, students from different universities and colleges also turn up,” he revealed. “Some are amazed to see me without food, others are apologetic.”

Despite his hunger strike, the police are not ready to register an FIR for Zahid’s disappearance and no information has been released on his whereabouts either. However, a petition has been filed in the court for his recovery, with a hearing date fixed for next week.

A member of the BSO, Kareema Baloch said that Johar’s condition was getting worse and that a doctor has warned them that he runs the risk of heart failure. “He spends most of the day sleeping,” she said.

The protesters claim that a jeep with unidentified men came to the camp a few days ago at around 4am and threatened them. “Our lives are in danger,” said one of the activists.

Another activist, Barmsh Baloch, said that they want to appeal to the United Nations (UN) and other human rights organisations to help them with their cause.  A petition, with 720 signatures, has so far been collected in a book at their camp to be dispatched to the UN to ask them to help save the lives of Zahid and Lateef.

Meanwhile, on May 14, Baloch men and women in the country and across the world will observe a 12-hour hunger strike to express solidarity with Johar.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2014.

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