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Mahrang Baloch Faces Threats, Media Trial for Her Political Activism in Balochistan

During a sit-in in Islamabad, people in the then government falsely declared her brother as a commander of a terrorist organisation, with the state-sponsored media parroting the government’s version.

Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC)
Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC)

Karachi: “If you are Baloch and engaged in political activism for your people, it means you are putting your life – and the lives of your family and everyone else related to you – in danger,” says Mahrang Baloch.

Dr. Mahrang Baloch is a prominent figure emerging on the political landscape of Balochistan. The Baloch women sit-in led by her this year, demanding the the release of all Baloch missing persons and an end to Baloch genocide, caught the attention of everyone in the South Asian region as well as international observers. This brought significant attention to the ongoing severe human rights violation in the province.

Since then, the vocal Mahrang has been receiving threats and facing a media trial. Not a single day goes by without attacks on her. Her belongings are also being scrutinised, despite the fact that she does not own any expensive items. People can actually see her old-fashioned phone.

Even this journalist urged her to purchase a better mobile phone where she can check or read in an easier way.

Mahrang flashed a slight smile and said, “My people still live far below poverty line. A single mother who did not have enough money raised me. What I can afford, I have it.”

Her political activism puts her life in peril. Approximately 25 First Information Reports (FIRs) have been registered against her and her organisation–Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC)– in Balochistan and Sindh.

This is strange in a country like Pakistan where people are not punished for committing corruption, killing, or sabotaging constitution. Mahrang’s case shows that instead, those who speak about their land and people, remaining within the bounds of Constitution, are the ones being punished.

Mahrang and Her Family Neither Feel Safe Nor Protected

Mahrang is of the view that when someone participates in activism, he or she should be responsible for their actions, and their families shouldn’t bear the brunt.

“There should be some principles and values for the state, such that if the state wants to threaten or disturb someone’s life, it should not harm the person’s family,” said Mahrang.

Mahrang spoke to The Wire and detailed how she is being threatened. Her sisters and brothers feel unprotected and are under constant surveillance. Their lives no longer remain normal. Whenever they go out, they have to inform others of their whereabouts, and when they will return. This constant vigilance is a form of mental torture for her family.

She termed the state as ‘immoral’ and stated, “It has no values and principles.”

Mahrang further added that her brother was abducted in 2017, which she remembered exacerbating time after her father’s murder. Her activism has put her brother’s life in danger, and he continues to receive threatening calls from those who abducted him.

During a sit-in in Islamabad, people in the then government falsely declared her brother as a commander of a terrorist organisation, with state-sponsored media joining in by posting his pictures on social media.

She insisted that her brother has nothing to do with activism. After her father’s murder, his education was affected, and he has been confined to the family. It is easy to listen to someone who is threatened, but only those in such a situation can truly understand the mental torture inflicted on her family.

Mahrang shared that she had tasted the pain of losing her father due to political activism, and then enduring the abduction of her brother. Moreover, she has witnessed her mother carrying the anguish within her while supporting her activism. Despite knowing what is the price of activism, her mother continues to support her daughter’s struggle to be a voice for her people.

Mahrang stated that grassroots political activism is not easy and it makes the state uneasy because the activists are connected to their people. Where state has tried to pressure her, it has also employed the same tactics to pressurise her team. The state’s violent tradition includes threatening, abducting, and harassing Baloch people. They are threatening Baloch students and abducting them. Instead of scaling back its policy of abduction, the state has continued unabated.

“We did not announce any protest on Eid Day as we usually do. However, the state started abducting, torturing Balochs, claiming that you were supposed to hold a protest on Eid Day against Enforced disappearances,” said Mahrang.

While abroad, Mahrang faced threats and harassment

In May 2024, Mahrang travelled to Norway to participate in an event organised by PEN Norway and the World Expression Forum (WEXFO) held at Utøya and Lillehammer.

She was followed by state-sponsored men, and Pakistan Embassy officials joined the event to malign her. She said that she was more cautious while travelling because Pakistani state has a record in killing of Balochs abroad and they can easily escape accountability for murders.

“The state could have done anything to me in Norway. It can pull out all the stops to prevent Balochs from sharing their stories of sorrows and violence by the state. Consequently, they attempted to harass and threaten me into silence, hoping to keep the world in the dark about what is happening inside my province,” Mahrang told The Wire.

She reacted to the state’s threatening behaviour by stating that she did not need to take any action to expose the state and its violence. It is the state that uses threats against her and sends emails to international organisations, which ultimately, “strengthens my narrative of Baloch genocide.”

International Human Rights Organisations issued statements in solidarity

Norsk PEN and The Front Line Defenders issued a statement in support of Mahrang who was being threatened and faced treason charges. On June 7, 2024, an FIR was registered in a fake case against Mahrang and her Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) members, during their conference on May 18, at the Quetta Press Club.  During the event, the authorities had held press club members hostage and harassed BYC organisers.

Strangely, they delayed filing the FIR for nearly 20 days, which was evidence of state’s false narrative.

Mahrang expressed gratitude to international organisations for their support, and said that she would never forget how they stood by her.

Silence from human rights organisations and political parties in Balochistan

Mahrang shares that she never does expect Human Rights organisations to speak up for Balochs. The BYC sends these organisations FIRs and cases so that they could issue the statements.

“It is their responsibility to highlight cases but they seldom report our issues. Despite, having connections with the governments and the ability to influence them to reduce cases, they are not fulfilling their duty. For instance, more than 800 Balochs including the youth, face fake FIRs for participating in a sit-in in Islamabad. No human rights organisation has held a press conference to express concerns about them,” said Mahrang.

When asked about the silence of political parties in Balochistan about the threats she faces, Mahrang said that it was not only about her.

“It is about their failure to uphold their slogans against ending Baloch genocide and enforced disappearances. Their silence does not just affect Balochs; it also undermines their commitment to their own political agenda. Despite this, BYC had attempted to convey a message of unity against the agenda of Baloch Genocide,” said Mahrang.

She added that while the state threatens her and her BYC members, Baloch women-led sit-in has managed to make some difference among Baloch men, who have started bringing their daughters to the protests.

“The state utilises every tactic against me to break my spirit, but as a daughter of Balochistan, I will never give up on my people,” Mahrang confidently declares in response to the threats.

Veengas is a Karachi based journalist, and editor at The Rise News.

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