IT is a case that has been registered with the Sindh High Court simply as incident number 4,247. Missing since July 26, social activist and writer Abdul Wahid Baloch was allegedly taken into custody by two men in plainclothes while travelling on a bus en route to Karachi with a friend. His distressed family was obstructed from registering an FIR — a legal requirement for investigation — until the court finally instructed the police to do so. It is revealing that in an unusual move, the FIR was registered against “covert law-enforcement agencies” on Sept 28 with the help of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
When HRCP wrote several letters to government officials, the Supreme Court and international bodies, including the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, calling for the recovery of Mr Baloch, it received no response. This shameful official silence is damaging for the country’s human rights record. It also demonstrates the all-too-familiar disconnect between military-led and civilian law-enforcement agencies — one or more of which may be responsible for Mr Baloch’s disappearance. If Mr Baloch has violated the law then charges must be filed against him, rather than the government remaining indifferent to his whereabouts.
As a publisher and bibliophile, Wahid Baloch felt advocating peace and justice meant offering young writers the opportunity to embrace pluralism — and this narrative does not seem to gel well with the establishment’s thinking. Meanwhile, the government’s failure to investigate his disappearance and that of countless others is a travesty of justice given that enforced disappearances are attacks on dissenting individuals and must be criminalised. And regardless of whether this arbitrary practice is the work of covert intelligence agencies or civilian law enforcers, it is the state’s duty to protect detained persons from torture and to produce them before a court of law. Protecting fundamental rights is, after all, the cornerstone of a parliamentary democracy.
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2016