By Faraz Khan
KARACHI: Abdul Qadeer Baloch, also known as Mama Qadeer, the vice-chairperson of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), was stopped from travelling outside the country at the Karachi Airport on Wednesday night.
Qadeer, accompanied by his organisation’s general secretary, Farzana Majeed and a relative of one of the Baloch missing persons, Faiqa Baloch, was travelling to New York for a conference on the alleged human rights violations in Balochistan and Sindh, to be held on March 7.
“They [FIA] officials told us that Farzana and I could not leave the country as our names have been placed on the exit control list [ECL],” Qadeer told The Express Tribune. “They even stopped Faiqa as her visa was issued in my name.” He added that the FIA officials also off-loaded their luggage from the plane. “They forced us to stay at the airport for at least three-and-a-half hours until the plane flew off, during which time they mentally tortured us,” he alleged.
“The US government has given us a five-year visa, but we cannot fly to the USA now,” he lamented. “I just want to ask the government what we have done wrong that made them stop us from travelling abroad,” he questioned, adding that there was no case registered against him and he had never heard about his name being put on the ECL.
“What is the government doing with us since the last six years? We are human rights activists, not anti-state activists, but the government has always tried to label us in the latter category,” he decried. “They [government] should be ashamed of such activities.”
On contact, the FIA officials confirmed that the name of Qadeer and Farzana Majeed had been placed on the ECL. “We do not know why their names were put on the ECL as it does not concern us,” the FIA’s Immigrations deputy director, Asim Qaimkhani, told The Express Tribune. “We only follow the system. We put their names on the computer and found them on the ECL. It is our job to stop those people whose names are on the ECL and we only did our job.” He said that only the interior ministry would be able to tell why their names were put on the ECL.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has slammed the denial of foreign travel to the rights activists, reportedly on account of their ‘anti-state activities’.
In a statement issued on Thursday by chairperson Zohra Yusuf, the commission said:
“Apart from the obvious denial of the freedom of movement, the decision to prevent them from traveling abroad is bound to add to the sense of deprivation felt by the Baloch. It also demonstrates the many difficulties that human rights defenders face in their work in the country.”
This manner of arbitrarily adding citizens’ names to the ECL has been severely criticised by the Supreme Court in the last few years and the government has committed on more than one occasion to introduce parameters to introduce safeguards to prevent abuse. The safeguards are meant to inform the individuals in time about inclusion of their names to the list in order to enable them to challenge the inclusion, read the statement.
Mama Qadeer is the founder of the pressure group, Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, working for information on people who have ‘disappeared’ during the long-running conflict between the government and Baloch separatist movements.
Hundreds of people accused of links to separatist groups have gone missing in recent years, allegedly at the hands of security forces.
Many, including Qadeer’s own son, show up dead. Others are simply never seen again.