Silence over rights’ activist death in Pakistan

Barring the exception of the Pakistan People’s Party, the country’s political leadership has remained silent over the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Ibrahim Arman Loni, a Pashtun rights activist.This is condemnable, particularly on the part of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Loni was a senior leader of civil rights group Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. He and others had staged a sit-in in Loralai against unabated incidents of violence in the region as well as alleged attempts by the authorities to force locals to vacate their homes and leave the area in the wake of the January 29 attack on the office complex of the Zhob Range DIG that claimed nine lives, including that of three policemen, according to Daily Times.
The protest had just ended when, according to MNA Mohsin Dawar, a police team raided the site and tried to arrest Loni and others. In the ensuing confrontation, the police party allegedly resorted to violence, leading to Loni’s death.
Early last year, PTM had emerged as a movement of young Pashtun activists, including Loni, after the extrajudicial killing of NaqeebullahMehsud. These youngsters have since organized multiple gatherings, where they have put forth their grievances, some of which concern alleged excesses committed by state personnel. It is unfortunate for this country that even after the passage of a year, the elected leadership has made no serious efforts to engage these youngsters in a dialogue.
Two PTM leaders who have made it to the Pakistani National Assembly are frequently seen as raising their voice on extrajudicial killings and alleged highhandedness of security and law enforcement personnel during raids among other issues. However, neither the ruling party nor the mainstream opposition is ever seen making a concerted effort to engage with them. The policeman accused of extra judicially killing Naqeebullah has yet to be indicted of charges.
In these circumstances, the death of a senior member of the civil rights group was not an occasion that should have been treated lightly by the elected leadership. By Sunday evening, Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari was the only mainstream politician to have expressed his condolences to the aggrieved family and to condemn the suspicious circumstances surrounding Loni’s death. No one from the central leadership of the PTI or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) came forward with a similar statement.
This has rightly enraged many on social media platforms, including Pashtun youngsters who have complained that alleged excesses of law enforcement agencies are noticed when they take place in cities of the Punjab or urban Sindh, but not when committed in Baloch or Pashtun populated remote areas of Balochistan and Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. The elected leadership must understand that the burden to prove this perception as incorrect lies on them. They have expressed extreme insensitivity and lack of empathy by not having noticed the incident. They must not waste any more time, and order an inquiry which must be to the satisfaction of the aggrieved party.
The policemen accused of the crime must be suspended until the inquiry has been completed. Notice must also be taken of attempts by state personnel to prevent PTM leaders from attending Loni’s funeral prayer on Sunday. These are the bare minimum efforts the elected leadership needs to undertake to restore its trust in the eyes of all those who are grieving the loss of the activist’s life.
The absolute lack of coverage of events surrounding Loni’s death by the electronic media is also highly condemnable. It has once again raised serious question marks over the integrity of TV journalism as well as the claims of a free press by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry. How can a free press ignore the death of an activist allegedly from police assault?
Monitoring Desk

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