Hundreds of people, including women and children, on Monday protested in Hunza Valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region demanding the release of 14 activists who have been in jail for nearly a decade on charges of rioting and damaging public property in 2011.
The activists, including Baba Jan, a leader of the Awami Workers’ Party, were given multiple life sentences by an anti-terrorism court.
They were arrested over rioting that took place in the region after a man and his son were reportedly killed by police while demanding compensation after they lost their homes due to flooding and landslide on the Hunza river.
Sher Ullah Baig and his son Sher Afzal, who were reportedly killed by police, were residents of Shishkat in Gojal Valley.
Following protests over their deaths, police had arrested Baba Jan and several others from the area. While most were let off, 14 activists were singled out, say supporters, and were given multiple life sentences. All the accused deny the charges and call the decision a political ploy to stifle dissent in the region.
Baba Jan is a popular leader in the area. If he is allowed to contest in mid-November’s legislative assembly elections in GB, as planned by the Pakistan government, he is likely to win a seat.
The Indian government has firmly rejected Islamabad’s recent plans to hold legislative assembly elections in GB on November 15 and then turn the region into a Pakistani province.