Tuesday 26 February 2013

Opening a Can of Worms

A lot more cases of gross human rights violations by Pakistan's armed forces and it's agencies are surfacing after the attempted cover-up of Muhammad Ali Murtaza's gruesome yet senseless murder in Tehsil Khuiratta.

For example, 13 year old Hamza Sarwar living near Samahni District Bhimber was reportedly raped, tortured and killed by the Pakistani army around 11 days ago. Meanwhile, Activist Wajid Shah of Tattapani was brutally beaten along with others which resulted in him spending 4 days in DHQ Kotli...Culprits on this occasion were also the Pakistani army. Details to follow...

It should be noted that the administration of AJK (under strict orders from Pakistan's army) have banned any public gathering on M A Murtaza's murder. An example is the planned protest by all student wings of major political parties (conformist as well as nationalist) which was to take place this morning (Monday the 25th of February) at 10am. Newspapers carrying torture photos of our slain citizen have also been taken off the streets throughout AJK by Pakistan's roving agencies. 

Another scheduled public protest at 11am in Khuiratta instigated by local members of the JKLF only turned out 7 members of the public and culminated in just one speech given by G M Jarral. The public at large still lives in fear of being targeted, having undergone decades of repression and witnessing barbaric control of public opinion.

To top off today's blog (and this should finally become a regular daily feature in the manner of our daily 'Matters of the State' programme, accessible here) there was barely any electricity throughout AJK today.

Thursday 21 February 2013

The Gruesome Murder of un-armed AJK citizen Muhammad Ali Murtaza by Pakistan's Army in Tehsil Khuiratta

Muhammad Ali Murtaza in his unsealed coffin

Kotli – Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)

Thu. 21/02/13

Born in Lahore to a Sufi (Brelvi Sunni to be precise) Kashmiri Imam of a masjid in Lahore some 25 years ago, Muhammad Ali Murtaza originated from Aghaar Kotli. Hardly a stone's throw from the tomb of Sufi Sadiq who has devotees running in the hundreds of thousands spread as far as the UK. Ali had begun frequenting his homeland (Kashmir) often in the past year. His father Siddique tearfully narrated that his son had acquired a fondness for his motherland and wanted to settle here, preferring the open natural landscape of Kashmir to the stifled atmosphere of Green Town Lahore.

On Sunday (the 17th of February) Ali was making his way to his cousin sister's home in Janjot Bahadur (Seri – Tehsil Khuiratta District Kotli) near the LOC (Line of Control). He had visited before but important to note is that the Pakistani army has strategically kept civilian villages ahead of their forward positions all along the LOC. Before he could reach her home, he was picked up by Pakistan's army from Chattar in front of other civilians and as per their working pattern, Ali was promptly handed over to their intelligence agency, presumably the ISI. It is learned that in their blunt questioning they were puzzled that Ali said he had come from Kotli but his Pakistani ID card showed an address in Lahore.

Torture marks (photos attached) show that his legs were drilled, his feet were nailed and most of his body has overt signs of beating and torture. Ali had studied up to the eighth standard and had also memorised around 2 paras (2 of 30 parts of the Holy Qur'an). His father narrated to this writer that Ali wasn't too keen on his studies but would apply himself diligently to any work that he took a liking to. An example is helping his elder brother in his sanitary business in Lahore. As far as religious or political affiliation is concerned, Ali never showed any inclination towards any particular disposition.

The family of Ali became anxious when he wasn't reachable by phone and a desperate search for his whereabouts commenced including an enquiry made to the nearest army picket who gave an answer in the negative. It wasn't until Tuesday morning (the 19th) that Deputy Commissioner of Kotli Masood ur Rehman informed Ali's family of his horrid fate.

It appears that Ali was either tortured in or near Chattar or taken to Jhelum (in Pakistan) and tortured there. The victim's family includes his cousin brother Amjad Choudary (Chief Editor of urdu Daily 'Sada e Chinar') who's first task was to retrieve and take custody of the battered corpse. Pakistan's army was originally (and true to form) reluctant to do such and after much lengthy negotiations between representatives of the family (which also includes Mehboob Choudary – Member Kashmir Council) the heavily sealed coffin was handed over to the family at around 5pm (on Tuesday) but only after the Pakistani army's stationed Brigadier Faisal, took assurances from 4 people (namely, Amjad Choudary, DC, SP Kotli and local SHO) that:

  1. The coffin should not be opened and must be buried intact
  2. There should be no leak to the media
  3. No public agitation
  4. Burial should take place late at night

They were also pressured to present Ali's death publicly as resulting from Indian army fire (there were no gunshot wounds on his body). As a 'sweetener' Pakistan's army went to the length of offering Ali to be buried with protocol, accorded the rank of Captain and feted as a martyr. If the family had not agreed to these conditions, it is considered highly unlikely that Ali's corpse would have been handed over otherwise. All conditions mentioned above - bar public agitation - were broken forthwith in public interest.

Earlier, DC Kotli had insisted on not taking custody of the body from Pakistan's army without engaging the bereaved family. This provided the family evidence which reportedly thousands of AJK civilians allegedly murdered by Pakistan's army in the past 65 years have been forlornly denied. Social media initially and urdu dailies subsequently have shown evidence of torture and this wouldn't have been possible if Ali's body had not been retrieved. He was eventually buried under the watchful eyes of Pakistan's military. It's agencies and the local administration - after 11pm on Tuesday night - but not before a post mortem which candidly states extreme torture as the cause of Ali's death was provided to the bereaved family.

Ali's Grave

Why was Ali killed and tortured in such a brutal manner and in this age of open information is in the words of local activists, “akin to the action of a mad dog”. Public demands over the past few weeks from Civil Society Forum – AJK for Pakistan's unaccountable and illegal presence in their territory to end, are now gaining momentum. The public is calm, shocked but infuriated that in their words, “Is an action by those whom we thought were our Muslim protectors (Pakistan), who've committed a crime unthinkable even from those whom they untiringly taught us was our common mortal enemy (India)”.

In terms of immediate measures, the public is adamant that in future Pakistan's army or agencies when picking up a suspect should initially consult with the local administration before taking any further steps. The public also recognises that though the Indian army takes shield from AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), in AJK Pakistan's military is totally unanswerable in any forum. Their control over AJK's judiciary can be gauged by the fact that judges are vetted by Pakistan's military before they are selected. In this respect, the army assurance that they will provide a satisfactory solution to this case within 8 days, by holding a joint commission (Including Pakistan's army and members of AJK's administration) is unlikely to deliver any solace to the victim's family.

Finally, the gruesome murder of Muhammad Ali Murtaza should – it is contended – not be seen in isolation. Civil Society Forum – AJK whilst working in Khuiratta since July 2012 and conducting their first Ownership-Building-Measure (OBM) to open the Kotli-Rajouri route via Khuiratta, in particular it's demand for the Pakistani army (it's agencies and other militant wings) to vacate Kashmir by commencing their withdrawal from Tehsil Khuiratta (as gradual and incremental steps) towards returning ownership rights to the citizens of Kashmir, has not been taken lightly by Pakistan's roving agencies.

Ample evidence of harassing and instilling fear in our citizens despite overwhelming public opinion (polling gave a result of 99.5% in favour of opening the above-mentioned route) appears to be a clear message from Pakistan's military and it's agencies that their 'writ' will indefinitely remain unchallenged.

The victim's father M Siddique with Comrade Taifoor

Written by: Tanveer Ahmed (Founder Civil Society Forum - AJK)

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