PAKISTAN: Protests in Azad Kashmir against enforced disappearances by intelligence agencies

A strong resentment from the people of Pakistani held Kashmir against the enforced disappearances, torture, and other criminal activities of Pakistani intelligence agencies, have led to a series of protests throughout the territory known as Azad Kashmir.

On September 26, a big demonstration and rally was held in Neelam valley, which divides Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, the site of great atrocities. It was organized by the Committee for the Recovery of Disappeared Persons, with protestors demanding the government and the Pakistani army release those picked up by the intelligence agencies. A good number of women and children also participated, demanding the release of their loved ones. They were also chanting slogans against the rape of women by military officials. Protestors were holding banners and placards reading ‘What is the justification of terrorism and abduction from ISI and MI in the valley?’, ‘Why my father and brother were taken away by the intelligence agencies?’, ‘Do the intelligence agencies believe in courts of Azad Kashmir?’, ‘We are the victims of Indian cross border firing, we collect the bodies of our family members, and on the other hand, our brothers, fathers, and relatives are disappeared by our own forces, are we the easy target of Pak Army?’

On September 21, at Athmuqam, the district headquarters of Neelam valley, a big protest was organised where protestors called for the safe recovery of their loved ones who were disappeared by the state agencies. The speakers accused Pakistan military officials and plain clothed persons of raping women residing along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. The protestors demanded the halt of cross border shelling and the withdrawal of Pakistani check posts from the Kashmir valley.

On September 29, in Muzaffar Abad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, a hunger strike was organised by family members of missing persons, which was largely attended by lawyers, civil society activists and ordinary people. The speakers accused the intelligence agencies and Pakistani forces of whisking away people after raids at homes or workplaces, and of large scale rape. In particular, the bordering village of Shellong has the most cases of rape and abduction of women by the security forces stationed there. According to the locals, whenever new platoons are stationed, incidents of rape and abduction increase.

The incidents of disappearance and rape are not new for the Kashmir valley, and they are not confined to Neelam valley, but occur in almost all districts of Azad Kashmir. The Asian Human Rights Commission pointed out in January 2010 that the intelligence agencies, particularly the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), are accused of training and sending people inside Indian held Kashmir for Jihad or providing information of militants working in other parts of Kashmir. Family members of disappeared people are also stating that when these people leave the Jihad and return to their normal lives, they are caught by the ISI and shifted to unknown places as punishment for not working in the interests of national security. There are also reports that some missing persons, who were sent to collect information from Indian Kashmir, were also hired for smuggling liquor and other Indian items when they come back to Pakistani Kashmir after completing their assignments.

The activists who organise and raise voices against disappearances are arrested, tortured and charged with terrorism or being Indian spies, under the National Action Plan (NAP). After the demonstration and hunger strike on September 29, the following persons were arrested and their whereabouts are since unknown: please see the link of persons disappeared after September 29.

The Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), a construction company belonging to the Pakistan army, builds detention centres in the bordering areas, where activists, particularly students, are kept for indefinite periods and tortured.

The federal government of Pakistan and the administration of Azad Kashmir must change their attitude towards the people of Azad Kashmir and fully respect their fundamental rights, including the right to movement, expression and right to life. The government must ensure that all the persons arrested and detained by the intelligence agencies are immediately released, and that the practice of enforced disappearances is ended. Similarly, the reports of rape and abduction of women must be investigated and the practice stopped. All detention centers must also be closed down, and the police must be encouraged to maintain law and order.

The international community and particularly the UN Human Rights Council must inquire about the incidents of torture, extrajudicial killings, rapes and abduction of women residing along the Line of Control and stop the violation of fundamental rights of the people of Azad Kashmir.