UPDATE: Saeed Baloch Reappeared In Rangers Custody

Pakistan Rangers

After disappearing without a trace, General Secretary Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Saeed Baloch has suddenly been discovered. With no surprise, the disappeared human rights worker was missing in the hands of Pakistan Rangers who have now admitted that they have detained him.

According to agencies, Saeed Baloch was arrested with three others, Saleem Deedag, Mahar Bux and Dil Murad who have all confessed to providing funds to Peoples Amn Committee and Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).

This will be an open and shut case for many people. If Rangers spokesman says there has been a confession, many people will blindly accept it. However this incident should raise questions for the judiciary if there is to be any hint of law and order in this country. Sadly, it appears that the judiciary is once again relegated to ‘meekly observing‘.

Surprisingly, the administrative judge of the Anti-Terrorism court, who is also a High Court judge, granted 90 days physical custody to the Rangers of the four suspects. It is no secret to the Sindh provincial judiciary that Saeed Baloch was illegally kept in Rangers’ custody after he was asked to come for an interview at the Rangers’ Kemari station on January 16. In fact, after Saeed’s disappearance, numerous national and international human rights organisations strongly condemned the paramilitary force’s actions, and called for his release. All sections of local media, together with some international media, gave tremendous coverage of his disappearance. Civil society held a huge protest against his disappearance on January 26, which was shown live by all media. Under these circumstances, how can a High Court judge believe the concocted story of the Rangers, without even referring to the petition pending at the Court?

Judicial ineptness and long undermining the judicial role of guaranteeing the fundamental rights of individuals has led to an acceptance of the primacy of law enforcement agencies. Keeping persons incommunicado is seen as their legal right, and their investigations and statements are the sole basis upon which judicial decisions are made. Pakistan’s judiciary thus plays a silent spectator to the human rights abuse meted out to citizens under the various guises of security, morality and national interest.

In a functioning democracy, the Supreme Court would take notice of this clear abuse of power by law enforcement agencies. If there really is authentic evidence against the accused, agencies should not need to kidnap and force confessions. Sadly, this case like many others not only hurts the image of the judiciary as being a toothless creature, but it defames the reputation of security agencies who are seen as taking actions above and beyond the bounds of the law with no accountability to anyone. The Supreme Court needs to step in to save the reputations of both institutions before it is too late.

Where is Saeed Baloch?

Saeed BalochSaeed Baloch is human rights activist since 1980s and General Secretary Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF). On 16th January he was called to Pakistan Rangers office in Kemari. He has not been seen or heard from since.

51 rights based organisations have condemned Pakistan Rangers treatment of Saeed Baloch and demand his immediate release. Asian Human Rights Commission has noted that such treatments is a known danger of handing over powers to the military.

The arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of Mr. Saeed reveals the dangers of handing over sweeping powers to military, paramilitary and law enforcement authorities under the draconian Anti-Terrorist and Protection of Pakistan Acts (PPA).The Rangers and other paramilitary and military officials often abduct a person keeping him under arbitrary detention and later seek remand of 90 days from the anti-terrorism courts under the draconian Pakistan Protection Ordinance (PPA).

The archaic and faulty criminal justice system of Pakistan makes it possible for the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) to extend their tentacles wherever they deem fit, often seeking vengeance against those who dare uncover their tyrannical designs. Instead of actually tackling the material and ideological infrastructure of terrorism in the country, the authorities routinely abuse their powers to target those engaged in resistance to injustice and inequality.

Who can forget the tragic story of Sarfaraz Shah an unarmed youth who was shot and killed in the street while pleading for his lift after being confronted by Rangers in 2011? Therefore is it any surprise when human rights organisations report that encounter killings have increased significantly?

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) annual report for 2014, around 592 people were killed in alleged encounters with the police and Rangers. In 2013, which the HRCP termed to be Karachi’s deadliest year with 3,251 deaths, around 184 were killed in encounters.

There can be no doubt that Rangers and other forces have an important role when the country faces serious threats from criminals and terrorists. However it is also important that Rangers and other security forces maintain the trust and faith of the people who they are protecting. This will quickly become undone if innocents like Sarfaraz Shah are killed in the streets or if human rights workers like Saeed Baloch are disappeared. Effective counter-terrorism operations must have the element of transparency to reassure the people that terrorists are being targeted and not innocent people or those targeted for political issues. Then there can be no doubt about security forces as the nation will be united.