Friday, March 31, 2023

Prominent Pakistani rights activist found dead in Toronto | Human rights news

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Police say they found the body of a Pakistani dissident living in the Canadian city of Toronto under refugee status, rights group Amnesty International and others calling for a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances of her death .

The body of Karima Mehrab Baloch, 37, was found on Monday evening, although no immediate cause of death was given by police, said Lateef Johar Baloch, a human rights activist.

“I am with his family [and] I was there when the police came to see us and confirmed that they had found his body, ”Lateef Baloch told Al Jazeera by telephone.

“She is confirmed to be dead and her body was found in the water near Toronto.

A Toronto Police spokesperson confirmed that the body of a 37-year-old woman was found on Monday.

“He is currently under investigation as a non-criminal death and it is not believed that there are any suspicious circumstances,” said Caroline de Kloet, head of police media relations.

Karima was previously reported missing by Toronto police, after she was last seen around 3 p.m. local time (8 p.m. GMT) on Sunday in the Bay Street and Queens Quay West area, according to a police statement.

Police have not confirmed Karima’s death, although they have updated a public statement on her disappearance to say that she has been “found”.

Pakistani rights groups and activists, especially those with asylum status in foreign countries, called for a full investigation into her death, alleging it may have been carried out by state actors .

Karima was a prominent Baloch ethnic rights activist, having led the Azad faction of the Baloch Student Organization (BSO-A), an organization at the forefront of the political movement calling for the independence of the Baloch ethnic areas of Pakistan and y documenting alleged human rights violations.

Baluch activists, especially those calling for independence, have for years been the subject of a sustained and documented campaign of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, according to local and international rights groups.

Located in southwest Pakistan, Balochistan is the largest but least populated province in the country and is rich in minerals and other resources.

Baluch rights groups have long decried what they call Pakistan’s extraction policy towards the region, undermining it for resources but leaving it to languish at the bottom of most socio-economic indicators. economy in this South Asian country.

For more than a decade, ethnic Baloch armed groups have also waged a separatist war against Pakistani security forces, killing scores of Pakistani security forces and civilians in attacks they claim are aimed at securing peace. ‘independence.

The Pakistani military routinely denies allegations of rights violations, claiming that most of the region’s “missing persons” are members of armed groups who have fled their homes on purpose.

Karima was one of the most prominent voices calling for justice for political activists allegedly kidnapped or killed by Pakistani intelligence services. She took over the management of BSO-A after the disappearance of its former leader, Zahid Baloch, in 2014.

In 2016, the BBC named her as one of its 100 “Inspirational and Influential Women” for that year, citing her activism.

Threatened with death, she fled to Canada and was granted permanent political asylum in 2017.

Model of violence

“Recently her husband told me that he had received threats against her [in the last week]Said Lateef Baloch, who is not related to Karima but is a close friend and associate.

“People who texted her saying they would send Karima a ‘gift’ before Christmas or something like that.”

A screenshot of the threatening messages was shared with Al Jazeera.

On Tuesday, the international human rights organization Amnesty International called for a full investigation into the death of the rights defender.

“The death of activist Karima Baloch in Toronto, Canada is deeply shocking and must be investigated immediately and effectively,” the group said in a tweet.

“The perpetrators must be brought to justice without recourse to the death penalty.”

Karima is the second death of a Pakistani dissident under mysterious circumstances this year.

On March 2, Sajid Hussain, a Pakistani activist and journalist who frequently wrote about human rights violations in Balochistan and was living in voluntary exile in Sweden, was missing.

Her body was found almost two months later in a river near the Swedish city of Uppsala, authorities said.

Police did not investigate Hussain’s death as a felony, but media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said there was “a strong possibility that he was killed because of his journalist work ”.

In February, rights activist and critic of the powerful Pakistani army, Ahmed Waqass Goraya, was physically attacked outside his home in Rotterdam, where he lives in voluntary exile.

Pakistani activists living in exile say the deaths and attacks come after a steady rise in the number of threats they faced last year.

Taha Siddiqui, prominent Pakistani journalist known for his harsh criticism of the military, fled the country in 2018 after escaping an attempted kidnapping. He was granted political asylum in France later that year.

Siddiqui told Al Jazeera he had received several warnings from the United States and French intelligence agencies since moving to the French capital, Paris, regarding threats to his life, and had documented at least three incidents of what he considered to be surveillance of his activities there.

“In Pakistan, we see that there has been increasing oppression, repression and suppression of independent voices,” he said.

“Now that they’ve done it at home, it looks like they’re replicating that model and expanding that model globally.”

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.


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