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Human rights campaigners are not terrorists

A trial is drawing to a close in which anti-terror laws are being used to prosecute innocent human rights campaigners. Peter Tatchell reports

January 29, 2009
9 min read

The terrorism trial of two London-based Baloch human rights campaigners, which began in early November, is drawing to a close at Woolwich Crown Court in London.

The two defendants are the former Balochistan MP and government minister, Hyrbyair Marri, and human rights campaigner Faiz Baluch. They stand accused of inciting and preparing acts of terrorism against the regime of the Pakistani dictator, Pervez Musharraf, during his period in power, 1999 to 2008. Both men deny all the charges, stating that they are peaceful, lawful human rights campaigners.

The trial had been adjourned for part of November and December, after defence lawyers stunned the prosecution by seeking disclosure of cooperation between the British government and the illegal, unconstitutional dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf – including communications between the two governments concerning the arrest and prosecution of the trial defendants. The adjournment followed submissions by defence barristers Henry Blaxland QC and Dame Helena Kennedy QC.

The defence secured disclosure from the prosecution that the Pakistan High Commissioner to London wrote to the court on behalf of the new democratic government of Pakistan. The High Commissioner’s letter advised that his government wanted reconciliation in Balochistan and opposed the prosecution, effectively calling for the charges to be dropped.

The defence wanted to establish the political motivation of the prosecution by revealing the high level complicity between the Musharraf dictatorship and the British Foreign Office, Home Office, police, security services and the Crown Prosecution Service, which reportedly sent CPS officials to Pakistan to help Musharraf’s men draw up the evidence against the defendants.

The request for disclosure threw the prosecution off balance and created panic in the government. The UK authorities do not want to reveal the relevant documents, as these are likely to demonstrate that they worked hand-in-glove with Musharraf’s agents.

As feared, the government, police and security services used ‘national security’ as an excuse to withhold damning evidence showing connivance between the British authorities and Musharraf’s anti-democratic regime.

During the trial, the defence have shown that British government collaborated with the illegal regime of Pervez Musharraf, which overthrew the democratically-elected government of Pakistan in 1999. This collaboration included illegally arming the illegal Musharraf regime to enable it to prosecute an illegal war in Balochistan.

British military equipment was supplied to Pakistan. It is believed that this equipment was used in Pakistani army operations in Balochistan, where the Pakistani forces have perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The defence argued that the whole trial is an abuse of legal process, on the grounds that Pakistani military forces committed war crimes in Balochistan and that it is therefore inappropriate to prosecute the two defendants who were merely seeking to protect their people against these atrocities. This abuse of process argument was rejected by the judge, Justice Henriques.

The defence also submitted that the defendants acted in self defence to prevent human rights abuses in Balochistan. The judge also rejected this argument.

The judge accepted the Baloch people are an oppressed minority, and that they have been victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, perpetrated by the Pakistani military, police and intelligence services. These crimes include the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, torture, detention without trial and collective punishments – all of which are illegal acts under international law.

The judge insisted, however, that despite this persecution and terrorisation by the Pakistani state, the Baloch people do not have the right to use violence to defend themselves and that anyone who supports or condones armed resistance groups in Balochistan is endorsing terrorism, which is a criminal offence under UK law.

According to this argument, and according to a strict reading of the UK’s anti-terrorism laws, the millions of people who supported the anti-apartheid struggle of the African National Congress of South Africa were criminal supporters of terrorism, and the heroic men and women of the underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe during WW2 were terrorists.

If the anti-Nazi resistance was happening now, under current UK law, the UK’s Special Operations Executive and the Maquis French resistance fighters would be put on trial and jailed as terrorists. This is the madness of the government’s anti-terrorism legislation: good, honourable, courageous people fighting a just cause are branded terrorists, prosecuted and face imprisonment.

Further background

The defendants, Hyrbyair Marri and Faiz Baluch, are accused of preparing acts of terrorism abroad – charges they strenuously deny. Both men have been law-abiding citizens. They fled to Britain to escape persecution by the military coup leader and tyrant, General Pervez Musharraf.

Marri is represented by Henry Blaxland QC and Jim Nichol of TV Edwards Taylor Nichol solicitors and Baluch is represented by Helena Kennedy QC and Gareth Peirce of Birnberg Peirce solicitors.

Marri is a former MP and government minister in the regional assembly of Balochistan – a previously independent state, which was invaded and annexed by Pakistan in 1948, and which has ever since been under Pakistani military occupation.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Asian Human Rights Commission have documented and condemned severe and widespread human rights abuses by the Pakistani armed forces in Balochistan – abuses that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and the systemic use of torture. In one of the most gruesome recent abuses, human rights campaigners allege that Pakistani soldiers boiled to death four Baloch prisoners in April this year.

Marri’s father, Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, a renowned Baloch national leader, attended Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, along with other world dignitaries, as a guest of the British government. His uncle is Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the UN Special Representative to Sudan and the former Pakistan Ambassador to the United States, and his wife is the great grand daughter of the first Prime Minister of Iraq (1920-1922), Abdul Rahman al-Gillani.

Marri and Baluch, were arrested by police in London in December 2007. Marri spent four months in Belmarsh high security prison, and Baluch eight months.

In late 2008, tthe acting Interior Minister of the new democratic government of Pakistan, Rehman Malik. In late 2008, announced that terror charges against Marri in Pakistan have been dropped; stating that the case against him had been politically motivated. This discredits the whole basis on which Marri and Baluch have been charged in London.

Marri’s and Baluch’s arrest came just a few months after Musharraf demanded that the British government arrest Baloch activists in London. In exchange, Musharraf offered to hand over Rashid Rauf, implying that action against the Baloch activists was a precondition for surrendering Rauf to the UK. Rauf is wanted in the UK in connection with the 2006 terror plot involving liquid explosives on trans-Atlantic airliners, which resulted in the conviction of three men in London in September 2008. He is also sought in connection with a murder in the UK.

The arrest in London of Marri and Baluch took place two weeks after Pakistani government agents assassinated Marri’s brother, Balach Marri, a prominent Baloch nationalist leader.

Prior to Marri’s arrest, Musharraf’s regime made repeated representations to the UK government that he was wanted on terrorism charges in Pakistan – charges that have now been dropped by the Pakistani authorities. Soon after Musharraf met Gordon Brown at Downing Street in January this year, he held a press conference for Pakistani journalists where he allegedly denounced Marri as a terrorist and praised the British government and police for cooperating with his regime.

Claims of connivance are credible. For nine years, the UK’s Labour government supported Musharraf’s dictatorship politically, economically and militarily, despite him having overthrown Pakistan’s democratically-elected government in 1999. Labour sold him military equipment that his army uses to kill innocent Baloch people. The US supplies the F-16 fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters that are used to bomb and strafe villages.

Marri is an unlikely terrorist. He is a former Balochistan MP (1997-2002), and was the Minster for Construction and Works in the provincial assembly in 1997-1998. He fled to Britain in 2000, fearing arrest, torture and possible assassination by Musharraf’s men.

One of his brothers is Mehran Baluch. He is the Baloch Representative to the UN Human Rights Council. He was the subject of an attempted extradition plot last year by Musharraf’s regime, on trumped up charges.

The arrest of Marri – together with the murder of one brother and the attempt to frame another brother – looks like a systematic attempt to target his family and crush three leading voices of Baloch dissent.

A former self-governing British Protectorate, Balochistan secured its independence in 1947, alongside India and Pakistan, but was invaded and forcibly annexed by Pakistan in 1948. The Baloch people did not vote for incorporation. They were never given a choice. Ever since, Balochistan has been under military occupation by Islamabad. Baloch demands for a referendum on self-rule have been rejected. Democratically elected Baloch leaders who have refused to kow-tow to

Pakistan’s subjugation have been arrested, jailed and murdered.

The Asian Human Rights Commission reports that Pakistani army raids have resulted in 3,000 Baloch people dead, 200,000 displaced and 4,000 arrested. Thousands more have simply disappeared.

Human rights abuses

Details of Pakistan’s human rights abuses in Balochistan are well documented by Pakistani and international human rights groups, including:

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Balochistan mission

and

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Balochistan report

Asian Human Rights Commission

International Crisis Group

Amnesty International

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Human Rights Watch

[Watch this TV interview by Peter Tatchell with Mehran Baluch, the

Baloch representative to the UN Human Rights Council->http://www.veoh.com/videos/v15574249Ka8gKRt6]

Peter Tatchell is the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East

www.greenoxford.com/peter and www.petertatchell.net

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