Islamabad police announced on Sunday the approval of bail for all Baloch protesters previously detained during a demonstration advocating an end to enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings. The announcement followed a three-day ultimatum from the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC), the organizer of the Baloch long march in Islamabad, demanding the quashing of cases against students and activists and the release of all protesters.
The Baloch long march, initiated on December 6 in Turbat after the alleged “extra-judicial killing” of a Baloch youth by Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) officials, reached the federal capital on Wednesday. However, the peaceful demonstration met with a forceful response from Islamabad police, resulting in the detention of over 200 protesters from various areas. The incident drew condemnation from human rights organizations, politicians, the Islamabad High Court (IHC), President Dr Arif Alvi, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, and analysts.
The government’s initial statement on Thursday indicated that 90% of the detained individuals had been released, with a judicial magistrate granting bail to 162 participants a day earlier. However, conflicting reports surfaced, with protesters claiming that only half of them had been granted bail. The BYC asserted that despite the bail being granted, the release was subsequently canceled.
— Baloch Yakjehti Committee (Islamabad) (@BYCislamabad) December 23, 2023
In response to the protesters’ demand for the release of their companions, a statement from Islamabad police today affirmed the approval of bail for the arrested protesters, ensuring their release. The police urged relatives of the detainees to contact them for information to facilitate legal assistance.
Simultaneously, the caretaker government engaged in negotiations with the protesters, emphasizing the right to peaceful protests for every Pakistani. Interior Secretary Aftab Akbar Durrani assured that protesters would not face harm, torture, or harassment. However, he reiterated that no one would be allowed to take the law into their own hands, emphasizing the implementation of court orders.
As the Baloch long march entered its 31st day with a sit-in outside the National Press Club, the BYC reported that nearly 250 students and activists remained in custody. Mahrang Baloch, one of the organizers, expressed concern over the “missing” status of more than 100 Baloch students who had not been produced before any court.
Out of 250 students, 100+ student’s status is missing they are not presented in any court, if the students are not released & FIRs against peaceful protestors are not withdrawn then the long march will be compelled to take harsh steps and the state will be responsible for this. pic.twitter.com/v3kx7bBvJx
— Mahrang Baloch (@MahrangBaloch_) December 24, 2023
In a press conference in Quetta, Balochistan caretaker Information Minister Jan Achakzai attributed the missing persons to Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) terrorists, claiming they were either in the mountains or attending India’s training camps. He criticized the protesters, stating that they were facilitating militants and attempting to provide them with a platform.
PPP Senator Raza Rabbani condemned the Islamabad police’s “high-handed and ruthless manner” in dealing with the Baloch marchers, especially the treatment meted out to women, which he argued was not by Pakistani tradition and culture.
The BYC issued a charter of demands, seeking a UN Working Group-led fact-finding mission for a detailed investigation into rights violations in Balochistan. Among the demands were the acknowledgment of the alleged fake encounter killing by CTD Balochistan, the recovery of all missing Baloch persons, the abolition of the CTD and “death squads,” and a press conference from the interior ministry to confess alleged killings in “fake encounters.”