Recuperating Baloch activist vows to continue protest

Latif Johar Baloch

Unless I find the answer, I’ll continue to fight back peacefully. At least, I’m not killing anyone : Latif Johar

By Saher Baloch

KARACHI: A week after ending his hunger strike at the Karachi Press Club, Lateef Johar says he is gaining his strength.

Speaking to Dawn by telephone from an undisclosed location, Johar, an activist of the the Balochistan Student Organisation-Azad, says he is advised to take light food and lots of fluids after he lost about 20 kilos in four weeks. Johar cannot yet walk properly due to abdominal pain and amid the close supervision of his family members, he is asked to take it easy for a while. But he says: “This is the only thing I cannot do. There’s a threat to my life and it has been there since the day I decided to protest our leader’s abduction.”

The hunger strike had gone on for 45 days — from April 22 to June 6. A week before that Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch had specially visited Karachi and later the press club to persuade Johar to end his hunger strike. But Johar rejected his request saying that it would continue till law-enforcers admitted that they had BSO-A chairman Zahid Baloch in their custody. It was a demand which had the CM at a loss for words. The only good thing to come out of the protest so far, according to Johar, is that “the police in Quetta finally registered an FIR of Zahid Baloch’s abduction from the city’s Satellite Town following an order of the Balochistan High Court recently”. The police were not registering the FIR earlier after which student activists filed a petition in the BHC. It was on the third hearing of the case that the authorities registered the FIR, says Johar. Though the CM during his visit had promised to help them in registering the FIR, Johar says they “didn’t trust his words”.

Speaking politely about the CM’s visit, he says: “We know that the higher authorities are incapable of helping us out. It is just a matter of point scoring for the politicians, while we know what the day-to-day reality of Balochistan is. If the situation was as good as we are constantly told, there was no need for me to travel 500 kilometres from home to register my protest in the first place.”

Basically from Awaran, an insurgency-hit area in southern Balochistan, Johar has to think about his personal safety now, which is evident when he says: “There’s not been a direct threat but I know some elements are quite active behind the scenes. For instance, when I recently tried to log in to my email account, it showed that the account had been closed due to my ‘undesirable activities’. Today, when I tried to log in again, it showed that my account had been restored and the password was changed five hours before. My phone is constantly tapped, or the calls disconnect midway. I do think that I might be attacked, but let’s see when that time comes.”

Johar sounded hopeful yet a bit sceptical while speaking about the promises made by the Asian Human Rights Commission, a rights group based in Hong Kong, about filing a petition in the United Nations. The rights group also persuaded him to end his strike. “It all started with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. They were the first ones to visit me when I went on hunger strike outside the KPC. From there onwards every other rights group and students body came forward with their support. It is heartening. But we understand the ground realities of how much anyone can help us. But we’ll continue to resist and protest.”

From being taken to the emergency department of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre to now gaining his health back, Johar says he has come a long way. “We knew from day one that it was going to be difficult to come out in the open and protest. What I really worry the most about is what to tell Zahid Baloch’s parents when I’ll meet them,” he says.

“Unless I find the answer, I’ll continue to fight back peacefully. At least, I’m not killing anyone.”

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2014

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