Hunza Aliabad tragedy: Baba Jan, victims and the travesty of justice
Gilgit (TP) August 11: Exactly eight years ago, on August 11, 2011, a father and his son were shot dead by the police in Aliabad Hunza when the affected people of Attabad Lake protested for compensation after the lake devoured everything including their property and livestock in its wake.
A massive landslide on January 4, 2010, hit Attabad village and blocked Hunza River, forming a 23-kilometre lake which submerged several villages and left over 1,000 people homeless. The affected people had organized the protest rally to lobby the government for compensation and rehabilitation but the protest rally turned out to be a nightmare for the displaced people and many others who sympathized with them.
After the death of the father and his son, whose land had been inundated by the lake, the enraged people ransacked the police station in Aliabad and put it on fire. A police official, under whose patronage, the police had allegedly shot dead the father, was attacked and badly bruised by the enraged mob. The arson of the police station and the attack on the police officer was taken as an affront by the GB police department and hundreds of people from Hunza were arrested and brought to Gilgit city for investigation.
The arrested people were investigated and allegedly tortured in the cell in Gigit city before some of them were bailed out on personal guarantees and on affidavits. However, sixteen of the arrested persons including the iconic Baba Jan were put on trial in an anti-terrorism court, which is an administrative court administration, and they were awarded lifetime prison sentence without a fair trial.
Though a judicial commission headed by Justice Mohammad Alam and constituted by the Gigil-Baltistan government had conducted an inquiry into the tragedy, the report was never made public and it had been swept under the carpet since then. Baba Jan and other 16 persons were handed down punishment irrespective of the fact that the judicial commission report had not been made public or presented in the trial court.
The 16 people including Babab Jan are languishing in Ghakuch jail after they were convicted through a highly sceptical trial and critics call it the travesty of justice as they were punished without considering judicial commission’s findings and the right to a fair trial.
According to a recent UN report, neither the GB Order 2009 nor the GB Order 2018 has the provision for a fair trial of accused. According to the report, justice is but an elusive commodity in Gilgit-Baltistan given the absence of basic constitutional and fundamental rights.
The GB Chief Court had set aside the conviction of Baba Jan handed down by the trial court, however, the GB government went to an appeal in the GB Appellate Court after Baba Jan announced to contest Hunza by-elections from jail.
According to reports, the GB government led by Chief Minister Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman had asked Baba Jan to withdraw his nomination papers if his conviction had to be set aside, but he refused to do so and a GB Appellate Court split-bench (2-1) led by former chief judge Rana Shamim set aside the GB Chief Court’s judgment and restored the trial court’s verdict.
According to senior lawyer Ahsan Advocate, the judicial commission had held the police and the administration officials responsible for the entire episode in Aliabad, but the provincial government swept the inquiry report under the carpet to salvage the responsible government functionaries.
He said that the tragedy was one such event in the history of Gilgit-Baltistan in which the murderers were promoted and hundreds of youths, who sympathized with the victims, were subjected to the worst violence at an investigative centre in Gilgit and later punished through a trial court.
Advocate Ahsan said that the anti-terrorism court itself was illegal in GB as such courts did not exist in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He said that given the special status of both the territories, anti-terrorism court, on the pattern of Pakistani trial courts, could not be established in GB or in AJK, but former ruler Pervez Musharraf set up the anti-terrorism court in GB.
He said that the anti-terrorism court in GB is a kangaroo court, which is used by the GB government and the government functionaries to silence the voices, seeking fundamental and constitutional rights.
Advocate Ali said that the relevant agencies were reluctant to give any reason for not making the content of the judicial inquiry report public. “If the allegations against the protesters of Abadabad Lake tragedy are proven, then the judicial inquiry report should be made public,” he said adding the families of the victims and the convicts will be somewhat satisfied that the judicial inquiry committee has also confirmed the allegations against them.
He said that the fact of the matter was that the report was against the expectation of the provincial government and the administration and that was why it had not been made public.
Advocate Ahsan Ali also said that Baba Jan’s appeal in the GB Appellate Court had been pending for the last one year as, after the retirement of all the three judges, the GB Appellate Court had been in disarray since August 30, 2018. He said that the three-member quorum of the GB Appellate Court is not complete.
The advocate said that the recent appointment of GB Appellate Court chief judge Arshad Hussain has itself been made by the federal government in violation of the Supreme Court order, which has clearly stated that residents of GB would be appointed in the Appellate Court bench. Advocate Ahsan said that Judge Arshad Hussain is happened to be a brother of the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa forest secretary, who through the prime minister’s personal secretary and the GB governor, got his brother appointed in GB through the prime minister’s office in violation of the Supreme Court order. He said that they have challenged this appointment in the Supreme Court and the hearing was expected after the summer vacation.
Advocate Ashfaq Ahmed said that after the killing of the father and his son, the protest in Hunza was a natural reaction. He said that after the death of Benazir Bhutto, people had also resorted to ransacking and the public and private property was rampaged and banks looted, but none of the offenders was given such a huge punishment as had been done to Baba Jan and others in GB.
He said that after every tragic incident, turning of mass protests into mobs is a common phenomenon in the country and the world over, but “we can hardly see such a huge punishment for protesters, as has been done here in Gilgit,” he said adding that the GB Appellate Court, where Baba Jan’s appeal is pending, has been none-functional for the last one year which itself speaks volume of the reality and gravity of justice in GB.
According to some critics, the people of Hunza were expecting from the GB chief minister that he would not only play a pivotal role in publicizing the judicial inquiry report but also play his role on every forum to raise his voice for the release of the convicts but he and his party became a party to the case and created bottlenecks in setting aside the conviction by the GB Chief Court.
Critics also lambast Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan and his wife Atiqa Ghazanfar, who is a member of the GB Assembly, for not playing any role in providing justice to Baba Jan and other convicts. They say that Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan held the position of governor for two and a half years and his wife is a member of the GB Member Assembly, but they have caused the people of Hunza to lose hope.
They say that after eight years of the killing of the father and his son, the protesters are behind the bars while those responsible for the tragedy have been rewarded, promoted and exonerated.
The people of Hunza are hopeful that the time for the obstruction of justice will come to an end and the report of the Judicial Inquiry Committee will be made public and the real culprits will be brought before the law.