Low flying, banner trailing plane calls for “Justice for Balochistan” during #PakvsAfg cricket match.

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Leeds, United Kingdom — Human rights campaigners today organised a plane to fly twice over the Headingly stadium during the Afghan-Pakistan ICC world cup match in Leeds. A giant banner trailed in the sky, emblazoned with the words “Help End Disappearances in Pakistan” and “Justice for Balochistan”.

“We are protesting against kidnappings and enforced disappearances by the Pakistani security forces against the ethnic Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun, Mohajir and religious minorities” said one of the protest organizers, Bhawal Mengal who fled Pakistan and now lives in the UK .

“An estimated 20000 people have been abducted and ‘disappeared’ by the Pakistani state in the last 10 years in Balochistan. Many have been tortured and killed, most have been rights activists, students, journalists, human rights defenders , singers, or loved ones of those tortured and murdered. My uncle Asadullah Mengal was one of the first victims of enforced disappearances in Pakistan in 1974 never to be seen again. A retired head of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies recently admitted on national TV that he was later killed during interrogation”.

The aircraft circled the stadium for around 20 minutes twice , and was noisy enough to grab the attention of thousands there to watch the much anticipated match. Many feared it would become a distraction for the players focusing on the “must win” match for Pakistan.  There were banners at the entry and exits of the stadium with similar slogans. One banner outside the stadium reminded the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan about his promise he made as an opposition leaders claiming to “resign if not able to produce the victims of enforced disappearances.”

The ICC has issued a statement on the incident calling it a “political message” and stated they would “ensure it doesn’t happen again”. The organizers of the campaign have called the ICC statement unacceptable. 

“The victims of enforced disappearances and other human rights violations in Pakistan need the people from all walks of life to raise voice for them. ICC or any other organization should not have any right to sweep such gross violations of the human rights & try to silence the voices of the oppressed people by calling it a ‘political message'”, said the press release of the organizers.

This comes as part of a human rights awareness campaign recently jointly initiated by the World Baloch Organisation and the Baloch Republican Party. The campaign focuses on the dire human rights situation in Pakistan, urging for the end of killings, torture and particularly enforced ‘disappearances’  by the Pakistani establishment in the Balochistan, Sindh and KPK.

“The international community must look into the matter which has affected the lives of thousands. Everyday people are picked up from their homes by military personnel, and this has been happening with complete impunity. Our motive for this campaign is simply to reveal the truth, a truth that is well known in Pakistan but which has been suppressed by fear” said Nawab Brahumdagh Bugti, the president of the BRP who is a leading figure in the movement and a co-organizer of the event.  His grandfather, Nawab Akbar Bugti, a veteran Baloch nationalist leader was killed by the military in Balochistan, Bugti’s sister and niece were also killed because of his views on the state’s involvement in human rights abuses.

Due to an extensive crackdown on freedom of expression regarding the issue of enforced ‘disappearances’, news of these violations rarely surface in international media channels. The military’s control over local media means anyone reporting such incidents risks falling victim themselves. International NGOs and journalists are not given access to Balochistan where most of the cases of ‘disappearances’ have been registered. These practices have been exposed  by several international rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch,  focussing on the infamous “Kill and Dump Policy”, where mutilated bodies are found in ditches miles away from the spot of abduction.

Families of the abducted victims have long been protesting for the safe recovery of their loved ones in the provincial capital Quetta, and their protest camp has now completed more than 3500 days.

The organizers of the campaign have long been engaged in efforts to highlight the worsening human rights situation in Balochistan at international platforms, organising events around Europe and in the United States, focusing on advocacy activities in the European Parliament, the US parliamentary houses, and the United Nations.