PAKISTAN: A year of unjust and impunity for the murderer of two Fisherfolk activists

The Fisherfolk community in Pakistan is considered the poorest of the poor, dwelling in slum settlements along the 1129 kilometres coastline with no basic amenities. A high level of poverty prevails in all the capital assets and makes a sustainable livelihood for the fishermen in Pakistan extremely difficult. Human poverty, social poverty, financial poverty and natural poverty calamities ensure that this class of people live under the poverty level. The discrimination against the fisherfolk has been continued for centuries but no government has taken any interest in bettering the lifestyle of these poor people.

The fishermen are the ones whose rights have been violated from time to time by the sea lords. In the continuation of this unjust action against this marginalized group, the killing of two human rights defenders and fisherfolk activists and the negligence of the government and criminal silence of law enforcement agencies has proved once again that there is no rule of law in the country.

Since January 16 2011, after the attack on Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) office in Kakkapir village, Maripur, Karachi, the land mafia goons had been harassing the fisherfolk activists because of their campaign against the illegal cutting of mangroves forests, land grabbing and displacement of fisherfolk settlements. The AHRC had warned that the deceased activists were under serious threat at that time but the police and other government agencies failed to protect them. Eventually, on May 5, 2011, at night, Mr. Haji Younis and his son Zulfiqar Younis along with the land mafia goons attacked the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) office in Kaka Pir village and murdered two human rights leaders, Mr. Haji Abu Bakar, President of Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum Kaka village unit and Mr. Abdul Ganai Mirbahar, General Secretary of Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum Karachi Division.


The Deceased Fisherfolk Activists Haji Abubakar and Abdul Ghani

Initially the police was reluctant to register the complaint against the murderers who are the powerful people. In fact, the police in this area have been serving only the land mafia, members of which are politically and economically influential locally, encouraging false charges against the poor fisher folks. However, after immense pressure from the civil society and concerted efforts of the fisherfolk an FIR was lodged against the culprits.

The prosecution is in process but the perpetrators were granted bail, even before arrest and went free without hindrance, to threaten the deceased person’s family and the fisherfolk who are perusing the case against them. The government and the law enforcement agencies do not bother to take any notice of this brutality. Rather, the Government appears to support these culprits. The judiciary, under extreme political influence is playing an unlawful and immoral role which is no any different than that of the criminals. Despite of the fact that the villagers and the victims’ relatives saw the torture marks, the post-mortem report by the Medico Legal Officer has been manipulated and did not report the torture marks on the bodies.

In order to protest against such appalling behaviour by the government, the fisherfolk held an historic demonstration rally in which more than 10,000 fishermen, civil society representatives and large numbers of women and children participated. The purpose of this peaceful demonstration was to submit a memorandum to the Chief Minister but the law enforcement agencies did not allow them to do so. During the march, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kiamari and Ms. Shelha Raza, Deputy Speaker of the Sindh Assembly, gave assurances that concrete action would be taken against Haji Younis and his son Zulifiqar Younis, who is former Town Mayor Kiamari, who are involved in land grabbing and the registration of fake FIRs against the innocent villagers, and that other land grabbers who were involved in land filling will not be spared, but all this was just smoke screen for their inaction.

Nevertheless, the poor fishermen seeking for justice have consistently been struggling against such criminals in terms of holding consultation meetings with all relevant stakeholders, relevant ministries, parliamentarians, civil society, media, academia, lawyers and intellectuals. In order to get justice for their martyrs the fishermen are firm and determined, putting all their efforts to their best, to bring the murderers before the law. They have been staging sit-ins, press conferences, rallies, demonstrations, hunger strikes, writing letters to the high authorities of government and petitions in the courts of law.

The fisherfolk leadership held separate meetings with the Chief Minister of Sindh, Home Minister of Sindh, Inspector General of Sindh Police and other authorities in order to demand justice. However, instead of bringing the culprits to court, the police is supporting the land grabbers and many fake FIRs have been registered against the innocent campaigners and the leadership of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF).

The AHRC has highlighted through many of its urgent appeals (AHRC-UAC-008-2011), (AHRC-UAU-024-2011) and statement (AHRC-STM-062-2011) that the land mafia with backing from politically influential people, government and law enforcement agencies, is very much active in the village and occupied most of the forest land which is a blatant threat to lives and food security of the villagers.

In 1985 the mangrove forest were about 440,000 area in hectares which has now that so much degraded, deformed and depleted to 73,001 hectares only which is an alarming situation. Despite of the fact that the United Nations had announced the year 2011 as the year of protection of forest, which the government of Pakistan also endorsed, the coastal mafia breeched all the laws still and continued cutting the mangrove forest.

The situation of the Kakka pir village is more critical as the land mafia goons, with the support of the government and the administration are making the lives of the poor fishermen more miserable. The 300 families and about 2500 fishermen in Kakka Village, totally depend on fishing and the resources from the forest. These resources are rapidly being exterminated by the mafia. As a direct result of this the children are suffering malnutrition. A further deterioration in the lives of the fishermen is that the land mafia goons cut off the only drinking water supply to the village. The fishermen are now forced to purchase water tanks from the city municipality that has increased the problem not only of the fishermen but the women of the community to a large extent.

There is also confirmation that the land mafia are running an illegal business in which they are selling plots of land which had formerly been granted to the fisherfolk. Billions of rupees are changing hands. The land mafia leader Haji Younis and his son Zulfiqar Younis have been running the illegal business and the Revenue Officer of Kemari Town is equally involved. The land for 300 houses which was announced by the government for the deprived villagers in the name of Shaheed Benazeer Bhutto (the former prime minister who was assassinated in 2007) was also sold. The land grabbers continued with their illegal activities along with the coastline, they have been cutting mangroves and reclaiming land from the sea in order to it. This is causing additional hardship as this particular area is where the fishermen of Kakka Pir, Abdul Rehman, So mar and Khadda Villages park their boats.

This situation, and lack of action by the government, has increased the agitation and anger among the fishermen. They are constantly fighting for their rights seeking help from every edge and corner but the government has turned its back on them.

It is the dire need of the time that the government, civil society and the local people join hands against the land mafia and stop their unconscionable activities which include environmental demolition.

Nobody knows how long the violation of basic human rights and lack of the rule of law will continue, how long the innocent children of the poor fishermen wait to fill their bowls and how many Ghanis and Abubakars will have to sacrifice their lives to get their rightful share from this unjust society.