The arrest in London of exiled Baluch human rights activists looks like a bid by President Musharraf to frame his opponents and silence critics.
A former MP and government minister from Pakistan-occupied Baluchistan, Hyrbyair Marri, has been languishing in Belmarsh Prison for the last two months. He was arrested at his west London home in early December on charges of plotting terrorist acts abroad (it is assumed in Pakistan).
Mr Marri was Minster for Construction and Works in the provincial assembly of Baluchistan from 1997 to 1998.
Baluch leaders and Pakistani opposition figures believe the charges against him are without substance and have condemned Mr Marri’s arrest and imprisonment. They claim that the Pakistani dictator, President Pervez Musharraf, has a vendetta against the Marri family, who are leading nationalists in the province of Baluchistan – a formerly independent nation that was invaded and annexed by Pakistan in 1948.
They cite leaks that Musharraf has privately vowed to crush the Baluch self-determination movement and destroy its leaders. They also highlight the fact that the Pakistani authorities have been pressing the British government to arrest and extradite Marri and several other Baluch nationalists who live in London.
Their claims seem to have some credibility. Mr Marri’s arrest in London two months ago, came just two weeks after the Pakistani authorities assassinated his brother, Balaach Marri. His murder was strongly condemned by opposition leaders such as Imran Khan and the late Benazir Bhutto.
Mr Marri’s other brother, Mehran Baluch, who also lives in the UK and is the Baluch representative to the UN Human Rights Council, was last year the subject of a top secret extradition bid by Pakistan, on charges that critics have condemned as trumped up.
Watch my interview with Mehran here:
The actions of the Musharraf regime against these three brothers look like a systematic attempt to target this family and crush three major voices of Baluch dissent. What is particularly shaming is that the UK government appears to be colluding with this plot by the despots in Islamabad.
Mr Marri’s arrest in London also coincided with a major Pakistani military offensive against Baluchistan, which has included the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas using US-supplied fighter jets and other weapons small arms, some of which may have been supplied by Britain. The Labour government is aiding the Pakistani tyrant; authorising the sale of the military hardware that he uses to sustain his dictatorship and suppress his own people.
Hundreds of innocent Baluch civilians have been killed in Musharraf’s scorched earth military campaign. Thousands more people have been detained without trial or forced to flee their homes to escape Musharraf’s terror tactics.
Earlier this week, I spoke to the chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Asma Jahangir. She confirmed the apparent attacks on civilian areas; saying she visited the site of a supposed rebel military camp that was blasted to pieces by the Pakistan army and air force. Littering the ground, she said, were domestic artefacts, civilian clothing and children’s toys.
Mr Marri has been charged alongside another Baluch human rights activist, Faiz Baluch, of north London.
I know both the detained men. They are Baluchistan nationalists and human rights activists. We worked together to expose Pakistan’s persecution of the Baluch people and to support the broader struggle for democracy in Pakistan. The defendants never expressed to me any support or sympathy for terrorism. All our campaigns have been lawful and peaceful. I would be very surprised if either man was involved in any terror plot. Mr Marri is a member of one of the most distinguished and esteemed Baluch families. He is a rather unlikely terrorist.
I was in Westminster magistrates’ court on 11 December and heard the prosecution’s outline evidence against the two men. I believe it be flimsy, circumstantial and flawed.
It is my opinion that these terror charges are likely to have resulted from pressure by the Musharraf regime. We know that President Musharraf has been pressing Britain for the extradition of Baluch nationalists exiled in London. It is also well known that the Pakistani intelligence agencies are not averse to fabricating evidence against political opponents.
Britain and Pakistan have been in secret negotiations for a prisoner swap deal. The UK police want to extradite terror suspect Rashid Rauf from Pakistan. They are keen to question him in connection with the 2006 plot to blow-up transatlantic airliners.
In exchange for handing over Mr Rauf to the UK, the Pakistani government is demanding the extradition from Britain of Baluch nationalists.
Late last year, however, after the UK government failed to extradite Mehran Baluch, Mr Rauf, a high security prisoner, mysteriously escaped from police custody in Pakistan.
Despite their carelessness, Musharraf’s men are still pressing for the Baluch nationalists to be handed over. If Mr Marri and Mr Baluch are extradited they will never get a fair trial and will face torture, imprisonment and probable execution.
Astonishingly, our government, in our name, is colluding with a bloody dictator like Musharraf. Gordon Brown should refuse to give in to pressure and blackmail by the Pakistani dictatorship. He should publicly reject requests for the arrest and extradition of Baluch leaders and activists, and cease supplying military aid to the tyrant in Islamabad.