Mohammed Hanif Rejects Sitara-e-Imtiaz Over Baloch Rights Violations

Prominent Pakistani author and journalist Mohammed Hanif announced on Saturday that he was returning his Sitara-e-Imtiaz, the third-highest civilian award of Pakistan, in protest against the brutal crackdown on Baloch protesters in Islamabad.

Hanif, who is known for his acclaimed novel “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”, said he was ashamed to witness a new generation of Baloch activists being denied basic dignity and human rights by the state.

He made the announcement on his X account, after watching a video of a Baloch girl pleading with the authorities for the “right to live”.

“In protest, returning my Sitara e Imtiaz, given to me by a state that continues to abduct and torture Baloch citizens. Journalists of my generation have seen @SammiBaluch and @MahrangBaloch_ grow up in protest camps. Ashamed to witness a new generation being denied basic dignity,” he wrote.

Hanif was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 2018 for his contributions to literature and journalism.

His gesture of solidarity came after hundreds of Baloch protesters, led by women, were subjected to baton charges and mass arrests by the Islamabad Police on Wednesday.

The protesters, under the banner of Baloch Yakjehti Council (BYC), had marched from Turbat to Islamabad, covering a distance of over 2,000 kilometres, to demand the recovery of their missing relatives, who they allege have been forcibly disappeared by the security agencies.

The protesters also wanted to present their grievances to the United Nations office in Islamabad, but were stopped by the police near the press club.

The police action sparked widespread outrage and condemnation from human rights bodies and political parties, who called it a violation of the constitutional right to peaceful protest.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) also warned the police against creating hurdles for the Baloch protesters and ordered them to release the detainees.

“Let them protest who have come to protest, it’s their constitutional right,” Chief Justice Aamer Farooq said during the hearing of a petition filed by long march organisers Sami Baloch and Abdul Salam.

The court also directed the authorities to provide security and medical facilities to the protesters.

The marchers have announced to hold a “peaceful rally” at the Islamabad Press Club on Sunday to press for their demands.

They have also formed a five-member committee to hold talks with the government representatives, but no breakthrough has been achieved so far.

The issue of enforced disappearances has been a longstanding and contentious one in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan, where separatist and nationalist groups have been waging a low-intensity insurgency for decades.

The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) reports that the number of missing individuals from Balochistan exceeds 7,000. Contrarily, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances records a significantly lower figure, stating that there are merely 454 active cases from the region as of October 2023.

However, human rights groups and activists claim that the actual number is much higher and accuse the state of using enforced disappearances as a tool of repression and intimidation.

The government has repeatedly denied any involvement in the practice and vowed to address the issue through legal and institutional reforms.

However, the protesters say that they have lost faith in the government’s promises and want concrete action to end their ordeal.

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