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Saturday, 12 October 2013

Encountering State Violence for the first time on my journey from Subject to Citizen - in Khuiratta - AJK

Before we begin our update according to the title of this weblog entry let's cover a more constructive aspect of our society viz. our highly skilled diaspora:

Amongst the Professional Cream of AJK - Professor Surgeon Maqsood Abdali:


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We now move on to an issue - the news of which - spread like wildfire throughout AJK and its diaspora. Sardar Shameem Khan was intent on disgracing all the politicians of AJK - bar none - for what he described as their insincerity towards the 'Kashmir Cause' and their unbridled corruption. His idea was that he wanted to tar their faces (with spray paint) on the various billboards littered throughout AJK. He would carry out the acts himself but wanted someone to make video footage of the activities.

As no one else was willing to do this for fear of reprisals; on his suggestion I gave it a thought and concluded that dissent was a powerful feature of democracy and this was a novel - and peaceful - way of trying to bring our politicians to account.

Here's an assortment of videos from April, earlier this year:

At Sehnsa and then Holaar (our border with Pakistan):
 

The second of 2 videos at Holaar:


After a couple of days, we moved on to Khuiratta from Sehnsa and Holaar. That is, from the 'cold border' (with Pakistan where no cross firing takes place) to the 'hot border' (the LOC where Indians and Pakistanis exchange fire at will in our territory):


What transpired from here was my first arrest in my own territory by my own police. Hitherto, I had spent 6 days in Adiala jail (Rawalpindi, Pakistan) in January 2008 for asking the Pakistani foreign office to be clear in its policy vis a vis Kashmir and not just spew rhetoric and platitudes. I had also been picked up by the Pakistani army and taken by its agencies to their country in August 2011 for 'interrogation', only to be released after c. 36 hours.

The violence didn't end at the police station in Khuiratta, it continued when we were taken to the district headquarter hospital in Kotli, as can be gauged from the following videos:

Version 1:


Version 2:


Meanwhile, a campaign for our release had been mobilised in our diaspora in the UK:

Link whereby various videos and updates are available on the 'Justice for Tanveer and Shameem' Facebook page.

Here are a couple of - in action - photos too:


 

Once I was released - after 17 days - I went about writing a detailed report on what happened and sent it to the UK Government on the 1st of May 2013:

To:
The Consular Section
British High Commission
ISLAMABAD (PAKISTAN)

Date: Wed. 01/05/13

Ref. Torture, humiliation, detainment, false charges, denial of medical assistance and conspiracy against public interest in District Kotli (Azad Jammu and Kashmir - AJK)

Charges: 
APC 34, 505, 506, 489, 504, 353, 186

Accused: 
i) Shameem Khan (permanent resident of the UK and citizen of AJK) - Politician
II) Tanveer Ahmed (British citizen and of AJK) - Journalist
III) Taifoor Ahmed (citizen of AJK) - Journalist

Dates and Places: 

11/04/13: Physical atack by around 15 police officers in SHO's office at Khuiratta Police Station followed by detainment.

16/04/13: 1st court appearance, transfer to District Jail Kotli & bail of Taifoor Ahmed

22/04/13: 2nd court appearance and direction by judge to provide comprehensive medical examination to our satisfaction.

23/04/13: Medical examination at District Head Quarters Hospital Kotli and physical attack by 3 police officers including intimidation of medical staff. Later, I was refused medical treatment by jail authorities.

25/04/13: 3rd court appearance and judge yet to address any of (us) accused. 

26/04/13: Case deliberated on in court - in our absence.

29/04/13: Bail given to Shameem Khan and Tanveer Ahmed. Shameem Khan was immediately arrested outside jail by Sehnsa police with reference to previous case(s) dating back to the early 90's. He is still in police custody at Sehnsa Police Station.

30/04/13: Attempt to give Deputy Commissioner Kotli a written request to take formal proceedings against police ref. both incidents of 11/04/13 and 23/04/13 including a request for medical facilitation. However, his office was closed during office hours as he was busy entertaining politicians of the district.

Spoken to: 
i) Azoor Raheel - Consular Assistance Officer - On Thursday 25/04/13 via (facilitated by) Jail Superintendent Kotli
ii) Margarat Rose Cork - Consular Assistance Officer - On Tuesday 30/04/13

Report of Issue:

As a journalist, researcher, activist and aspiring technocrat working on my own initiative (and primarily at my own expense - the public partially funds my civil society efforts) un-interrupted since April 2005, in a territory perhaps best described as a constitutional enigma (viz. AJK for short), the initial event of the 11th of April 2013 was my first encounter with local law enforcement agencies since arriving here.

I have no criminal record in Britain (where I've spent more than 28 years of my life) and I've had two encounters with Pakistani law enforcement agencies in my quest to enfranchise the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, whose public narrative has been consistently subverted since the end of autocratic rule in 1947. The first incident relates to the beginning of 2008 when I was arrested outside the Pakistani Foreign Office in Islamabad for insisting on Pakistan making clear it's Kashmir policy. I was kept for 6 days in Adiala jail before being released without charge. The second incident took place in August 2011 when Pakistan's army (and agencies) kidnapped me from Baghsar (District Bhimber - AJK) and took me chained and blind-folded to an unknown destination in Pakistan; where after 24 hours of verbal threats, intimidation and humiliation for not deferring to Pakistan's 'national interest': brought me back to my home Tehsil Sehnsa.

It should be clear that I've left the relative comfort and institutional protection of a developed State (viz. Britain) in order so that the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir can enjoy the same evolved fruit of freedom, human rights and democracy. When one's efforts are entirely peaceful, democratic and progressive: aggression on the part of the State cannot be taken lightly and I'm highly appreciative of Britain's decision to invest scrutiny into this matter.

Initially, I was insistent on the framed charged against me being withdrawn before my release from custody but after lengthy consultations with civil society and in the hope that 'due process' can be established in AJK, I took the advice of Quayyum Raja to participate in this endeavour. 

THE STORY

It began from a spontaneous decision by Shameem Khan (of Zardari shoe-throwing fame ref. August 2010 at I.C.C. Birmingham U.K.) on late Monday afternoon (08/04/13) to tar the faces of all politicians who 'pollute' and 'invade' public space (irrespective of party affiliation except the deceased viz. Zulfikar Ali and his daughter Benazir), beginning from Holaar on the de jure border between AJK and Pakistan.

In my commitment to public interest and recognising the desperate need for alternative political expression in a State of 'negative governance', my role from the outset was that of capturing Shameem Khan's activity via photo, video, audio and text before uploading material on appropriate forums on the net. 

Material generated will corroborate my contention that at no point did I personally indulge in tarring of any politician's portrait. This is in contradiction with what the police have written in their FIR.

Shameem Khan's 'tarring campaign' took place at Holaar (08/04/13), Holaar, Channi (09/04/13) amidst much public celebration and without any law enforcement intervention. At this point, Shameem Khan felt that he had 'lit the torch' of genuine democracy in AJK and that fellow citizens of AJK should emulate his activity and thus play their part in exposing the corrupt nation vendors that present themselves as democratic politicians. In Kotli city the next day (10/04/13), this was indeed the gist of his interaction with various media outlets.

The following day's action (11/04/13) at Holy Public Chowk (also referred to as Yaadgaar Chowk) in Khuiratta which led to our arrest was also spontaneous. Shameem Khan felt an urge to show how simple it was for the public (of Khuiratta) to shed its fear of politicians. Amidst cheers and chants from the public in reaction, emerged a threatening request from a couple of police constables who insisted that Shameem Khan accompany them to the police station.

After initial bemusement, Shameem Khan decided that public engagement at the police station would just be another addition to the story. I drove him in my own vehicle accompanied by 3 police constables, who had in the interim called for back-up.

The S.H.O (Station House Officer) did not arrive for another hour or so and we later learned that he had been directed to return by cutting short his journey to Kotli. In the meantime, discussions took place with a number of police officers and other members of civil society at the police station. The main complainant in the FIR namely Shaukat Naz (Town Administrator Khuiratta) had strong words for Shameem Khan, clearly emphasising his tribal affiliation and mob-mobilising credentials. The latter became the 'rationale' behind our arrests as the police claimed in the FIR that they had 'skill fully averted public mayhem'.

S.H.O. Tahir Ayub looked furious on entry into his office and tried to intimidate Shameem Khan immediately by angrily ordering him to un-cross his legs. When Shameem didn't conform, a number of policemen 'hoodlum style' began to kick and punch him mercilessly. I stood up in outrage, upon which the S.H.O. turned his attention to me and began slapping and thumping me with the assistance of his colleagues, who used expletives aplenty in the process. The third person arrested namely Taifoor Ahmed, who like me was specifically carrying out his journalistic duties, also took a fair share of blows and expletives, while being mocked for his nationalistic views about Kashmir. Shameem Khan took the brunt though; he lost one (front, lower) tooth subsequently whereas another two (front, lower) are loose. His chest was kicked, upon which he lost his breath for a while. He was hit on the head repeatedly and initial marks on his hips and legs showed signs of excessive kicking. 

Neither he, Taifoor or me physically retaliated in any way and an audio recording during our torture could prove our stance. Meanwhile, video recordings of what took place at Holy Public Chowk and the initial deliberations that took place at the police station are available. 

It should be remembered that none of us were formally arrested or even questioned. We were simply beaten for not acceding to intimidation and kicked (and dragged) into a stinking, filthy remand cell at the police station. 

I conducted a hunger strike for the next 24 hours before another policeman namely Shabir (who wasn't present at the beating in the S.H.O.'s office the previous day) presented an alternative (charming and apologetic) face and requested that I help him write-up a police statement.

Our repeated requests (particularly) for Shameem to obtain medical attention were never answered and we were finally presented before a court on the sixth day of remand (16/04/13) and even then the police were trying to insist that we pay for their vehicle's diesel expenditure to Kotli. Bail for Taifoor Ahmed was requested in public interest so that he may present our plight to the outside world and seek accountability for unwarranted State aggression.

I began my second hunger strike in captivity on Friday (19/04/13) and maintained it for 46 hours until we were promised by the jail authorities that we would be presented before the judge who would in turn examine our request for medical attention (and examination).

When we appeared before the judge (22/04/13) Shameem and I each had a cloth stitched to our chest with 3 demands: 

1) Accountability of AJK politicians 
2) End of police brutality in custody (and in action)
3) An independent human rights group to enquire into those jailed captives who claim they are innocent.

Contrary to the judge's order that we be immediately taken for a comprehensive medical check-up to our satisfaction, we were not taken for another 24 hours. Upon arriving at DHQ (District Head Quarters) Hospital (23/04/13), our accompanying police escort (from City Police Station Kotli) immediately had an altercation with the first doctor - we were presented in front of - who explained that they weren't following due procedure and trying to impose their own method of examination. They in turn called S.H.O. Jameel (Kotli) for assistance. 

He arrived shortly thereafter, immediately trying to assert his authority - as if in a police station - by intimidating medical staff as well as us. S.H.O. Jameel tried to make light of our injuries and made every effort to minimise the examination by repeatedly blurting, "Jaldi karo - mere paas time nahi hay." (Translation: Hurry up - I don't have much time). I relayed the judge's instructions and made clear our right to be examined without hindrance and intimidation. In response, S.H.O. Jameel threatened me repeatedly that once I am released from jail, he would teach me a severe lesson that I would remember for eternity (amongst other threats endangering my life). This was followed by a few slaps and thumps to my face before I was hit directly on the head with a rifle butt, followed by a butt to my shoulder. 

A few hours later when back in jail, my head started spinning and the pain that I experienced is still constant even today, nine days later. The jail authorities made light of the issue and expressed that they did not wish for a clash between law enforcement agencies on this matter (ref. deputy superintendent Younis). 

Bail and Due Process

Bail was taken on Monday (290413) given the rationale presented at the beginning of this report, though Shameem Khan was (re) arrested at the gates of Kotli jail by Sehnsa police and taken to Sehnsa Police Station, where he is still in police custody in reference to some old cases relating to the early 1990's. Since those incidents - which Shameem Khan explains - were resolved amicably at the time, he has returned back to his motherland on a number of occasions without any police intervention. The political background of these repercussions (including this case implicating me) could be gauged from a request by Pakistan to Britain requesting Shameem Khan's extradition soon after the Zardari shoe-throwing incident in August 2010. As for dragging me into this 'tarring of politician's faces' issue is concerned, some political commentators are suggesting that the Pakistani State is using local law enforcement agencies to carry out it's 'dirty work', bearing in mind our neighbouring country's questionable status in our territory.

In order for due process to become sustainable tradition in AJK and in light of information that I've collected thus far, the following eight representatives of the State (all of whom are well acquainted with my efforts at civil society development at my own expense) should be formally questioned and charged on this matter, for which I allege that they have an implicit role.

1) Matloob Inqalabi (Politician representing Khuiratta constituency) - now deceased
2) Choudhary Yasin (Politician representing Charoi constituency)
3) Raja Farooq Haider (Opposition leader and politician representing Chikaar constituency)
4) Malik Nawaz (Politician representing Kotli constituency)
5) Shaukat Naz (Administrator representing Khuiratta Town)
6) Masood ur Rehman (Deputy Commissioner Kotli)
7) Tahir Ayub (S.H.O. Khuiratta)
8) Jameel (S.H.O. Kotli) – now deceased

The latter two are responsible for making life-threatening physical attacks on Shameem Khan (11/04/13) and myself (23/04/13) respectively.

Media and Public Opinion

An interesting indicator of public opinion could perhaps be determined by the fact that not a single word of condemnation has been targeted at Shameem Khan or myself (or Taifoor) in the media, whereas praise and upholding of public interest have been described by commentators on this issue. Bearing in mind that politicians hold the strings to advertising revenue as well as subsidising the salaries of many a local journalist, provides further testament. Finally, Pakistan's premier private broadcasting channel Geo and the BBC covering this issue as news items is perhaps recognition of the public interest value of our arrests.

On the activist front, citizens of AJK in the UK set up a 'Tanveer and Shameem Campaign' for our release which also has a dedicated Facebook page.

Medical Assistance

In the firm belief that diagnosis precedes treatment, I have deliberately not undergone any medical treatment (though I did go straight to the hospital upon release from jail) until I am confident that accurate diagnosis can be conducted. Whether that is available in AJK or not is open to question. My own preference is that I be diagnosed by a specialist made available by the UN at AJK Government expense. The brain is obviously one's most precious asset as well as a tool for achieving results for the public at large. The direct attack on me convinces me of the AJK State's malicious intent and without independent medical diagnosis, there's a danger that this incident will whither away like thousands of others in this territory.

For what I've sacrificed and intend to achieve, I have to find the most effective (and blood-less) way forward. That isn't possible without involvement of the international community in a territory seemingly unaccountable to nobody.

Authorized Liaison:
Civil Society Representation: Qauyyum Raja - 0346 5211284
Legal Representation: Ilyas Choudary - 0312 9502201

-

Scanned email sent to:
margarat.cork@fco.gov.uk
Direct No. 051 201 2490

Written by: 
Tanveer Ahmed (Rafique) 
Writer, broadcaster, activist and co-accused
(I remain deprived of my vision glasses since the day of 'arrest' - 21 days on)

End of letter......

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