Questionable motives: Baba Jan, two others get another life sentence
The decision was read out by ATC No 1 judge Raja Shehbaz Khan, who had recently awarded life imprisonment to Jan and 11 others for ransacking police stations and torching government property in Hunza in 2011.
In addition, Baba Jan, Iftikhar Hussain and Shakoorullah were also imposed a fine of Rs100,000 each while three others, Sultan Ishaq, Ahmed Khan and Ali Gohar, were exonerated over a lack of evidence.
Jan, Hussain and Shakoorullah are currently incarcerated in Gilgit Jail after the ATC handed them life imprisonment in September 25, prompting their colleagues to launch a movement against the ATC.
“This is disgusting, but we will not lose hope. We will fight this decision at every forum,” said Wajidullah, a spokesperson of the Progressive Youth Front (PYF). Jan is the chief organiser of the PYF and also the vice president of Awami Workers Party (AWP) which was formed after the merger of three leftist parties in 2012, namely Labour Party, Workers Party and Awami Party.
“This sentence came for torching the residence of a SHO during the Hunza riots in 2011,” said the spokesperson about Wednesday’s ruling.
What happened in 2011?
In August that year, police opened fire at a group of protesters in Aliabad. The demonstrators were demanding compensation for land which had been washed away or inundated by Attabad Lake. They were among the 25 out of 457 families which had not been compensated.
The police, however, resorted to firing to clear Karakoram Highway for the convoy of Chief Minister Mehdi Shah who was passing through the valley. Afzal Baig, 22, and his father Sherullah Baig were shot dead in the shooting, as a result of which riots erupted with enraged protesters torching a police station and other government offices. A police station in Aliabad was also looted.
In the days that followed, police registered cases and arrested over a hundred people. A judicial enquiry was also conducted into the incident but the report was never made public.
Jan’s counsel Advocate Ehsan Ali said the arrest and subsequent conviction of his client and others was “pick and choose” as the mob consisted of thousands of demonstrators that day.
“The ‘crime’ of Jan and the others was organising demonstrations against the police firing that killed a father and son who were demanding their rights,” said Ali.
Though the sentences have been announced, left-wing parties are mustering support to get the detained leaders released.
According to the PYF spokesperson, human rights activist and renowned lawyer Asma Jehangir has also pledged to fight for their case in Gilgit. Similarly, a senior leader of AWP, Fanous Gujjar, visited Gilgit last week and addressed supporters of the detained leaders in Hunza. He promised to hold rallies and to block Karakoram Highway if the leaders are not released in the near future.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2014.