Monday, Dec 04, 2023

Explained: Who Was Pakistani Human Rights Activist Karima Baloch, Why Are Baloch Leaders Calling For Probe Into Her Death In Canada?

Explained: Who Was Pakistani Human Rights Activist Karima Baloch, Why Are Baloch Leaders Calling For Probe Into Her Death In Canada?

The mysterious death of Pakistani human rights activist Karima Baloch in 2020 in Canada has been linked to the Pakistani Army and intelligence establishment that has long been accused of repression in Balochistan province.

Pakistani human rights activist Karima Baloch, who was found dead in Toronto, Canada in 2020. The Ba
Pakistani human rights activist Karima Baloch, who was found dead in Toronto, Canada in 2020. The Ba Instagram/Karima Baloch

Amid growing criticism of the Canadian government over foreign interference in local affairs, Baloch activists have renewed calls for a fresh and proper investigation into the death of activist Karima Baloch in 2020 in Canada. 

Karima was found dead in mysterious circumstances near a lake in Canada's Toronto city on December 22, 2020. She was a vocal critic of the Pakistani Army over the state's repression of her native Baloch community in the Balochistan province. 

Karima's death has been linked to the all-powerful Pakistani military-intelligence establishment. The Baloch leaders have also accused the Canadian government has of covering up the case. 

The calls for a proper investigation into Karima's death have been renewed lately as foreign interference in Canada is again making headlines after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed last week that the Indian government could be potentially behind the killing of a Khalistani terrorist named Hardeep Singh Nijjar. The activist have also highlighted the Canadian hypocrisy of raising the issue of Nijjar's death despite a botched probe and not pursuing the case of Karima in which the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus stands accused. 

Here we explain who Karima Baloch was, what we know about her death, and what the Baloch leaders have said lately.

Who was Pakistani activist Karima Baloch?

Karima Baloch was a Pakistani human rights activist who was living in exile in Canada since 2015. She was granted asylum in 2016. 

Karima was a vocal critic of the Paksitani military and state over the repression in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. The Pakistani state has long been embroiled in cases of human rights violations in the province. Cases of disappearances and deaths of government critics or community activists have been reported from time to time and Karima was a frequent voice on such matters. 

Karima was found dead near a lake in the city of Toronto in Canada on December 22, 2022, after days of disappearance. She was 37-years-old.

Karima was also the first Chairperson of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO) Azad. At the time of her death, she was a student at University of Toronto. 

In Pakistan, Karima had been framed for terrorism charges, a practice common against critics of the military, which remains the apex institution in the country and has ruled it directly for almost half of the country's existence. After the charges were levelled against her, she was forced to leave the country. 

In 2016, Karima was named as one of the 100 inspirational and influential women in the world for her work on human rights. 

The BBC reported that Karima came from a family long associated with the Baloch movement. She was the third member of the family to be killed. 

"Several members of Ms Baloch's extended family had been linked to the Baloch resistance movement over the years, and two of her uncles - a brother of her mother and a brother of her father - had gone missing. Their dead bodies were later found," reported BBC.

Over the years, thousands of activists and critics of the military have disappeared and been killed in Balochistan and the finger is pointed at the military-intelligence combine, which is dealing with a raging insurgency against the state in the region. 

"Balochistan province has been host to a long-running separatist insurgency. Ms Baloch was a well-known activist in the region...Activists in Balochistan say thousands of campaigners have gone missing in recent years," noted BBC.

Pakistani state linked to Karima Baloch's death

While the Canadian police termed Karima Baloch's death "non-criminal" and ruled out foul play, her friends and family along with observers of the Pakistani military's crackdown on the Baloch community point fingers at the military-intelligence apparatus. 

Karima's husband Hammal Haider said she had received multiple threats to her life shortly before her death. Haider is also an activist living in exile.

Haider told Guardian that Karima had left home for a walk on Toronto’s Centre Island as she often did, but never returned home. She was later found dead. 

Haider said that he had received multiple threatening messages over their activism just a month before his wife's death. 

He told Guardian, "I can’t believe that it’s an act of suicide. She was a strong lady and she left home in a good mood. We can’t rule out foul play as she has been under threats. She left Pakistan as her home was raided more than twice. Her uncle was killed. She was threatened to leave activism and political activities but she did not and fled to Canada...I was told that my brothers and wife can be targeted. I didn’t take them seriously. We often get such trolls and threats while talking about human rights abuses."

The Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE-RL) reported that the death of Karima and others in exile in similar manners reflected in growing fears among dissidents. 

"Criticizing Pakistan's military has long been taboo. For decades, the military and its intelligence services have been accused of silencing opposition through intimidation, censorship, enforced disappearances, and even assassinations...Now, even high-profile Pakistani journalists and activists in self-imposed exile in the West appear to be facing retribution for speaking out," reported RFE-RL.

Karima's death occurred just months after another Baloch activist, Sajid Hussain, was similarly found dead in mysterious circumstances in Sweden. The Baloch activists noted that the two deaths in such a short time pointed to a Pakistani hand. 

Media-freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) suspected that Hussain was abducted "at the behest" of the Pakistan's all-powerful intelligence agency ISI.

RSF's Asia-Pacific chief Daniel Bastard told RFE-RL, "Everything indicates that this is an enforced disappearance. And if you ask yourself who would have an interest in silencing a dissident journalist, the first response would have to be the Pakistani intelligence services."

"The military, intelligence community, and political groups affiliated with the military have been suspected in the killings of 22 reporters in the past decade," noted RFE-RL further.

Renewed calls for probe into Karima Baloch's death

Recently, Baloch groups have called for a fresh and proper investigation into the death of Karima Baloch. 

The Baloch groups have also highlighted the hypocrisy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government in raising the issue of the death of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar but not raising the suspected killing of Karima. 

It has also emerged that the Canadian police are also investigating the death of a China critic in British Columbia, the same province in which Nijjar, the designated terrorist who headed the designated terrorist organisation Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), was found dead. While Trudeau has plunged the India-Canada relationship to its lowest point with allegations against India despite a botched probe in the case, he or his government have barely raised the issue of the China critic's suspected killing by the Chinese regime or the alleged Pakistani hand in Karima's mysterious death. 

Baloch Voice Association President Munir Mengal has said that they organised a protest in Paris outside the Canadian embassy following Karima's death and called for a investigation, but nothing has happened in the three years. 

"Karima Baloch was a Baloch student, human rights and political activist, she came to Canada to save her life from Pakistani forces. In Canada, she raised her voice for the people of Balochistan against the abuse of fundamental rights by Pakistani forces...We demanded an investigation as it is a constitutional obligation of the Canadian government...We submitted a document for an answer...Approximately, three years have passed, and we received no information from the Canadian authorities," said Mengal to ANI in Geneva, Switzerland.

Mengal also accused the Canadian government of hiding facts related to Karima's killing and said the Pakistani spy agency ISI is involved in a number of cases related to Karima's. He also said that only Pakistan profits from Karima's death. 

Mengal told ANI, "We are asking you [Canadian government] to reinvestigate the case of Karima Baloch and publish the facts...And tell us under what circumstances she was killed and who was behind that killing. There is only one state that could benefit from her death, and that is Pakistan...We, the Baloch people have a lot of evidence that under such cases, the Pakistan secret service, ISI, is behind it...It is a very notorious organisation...There have been many cases where ISI has done this kind of killing... In this case, too, we believe that Pakistan's ISI is behind the killing of Karima Baloch...Canadian security forces, police and government are also hiding the facts."