Baloch protesters end sit-in after Pakistani prime minister’s pledge to meet them

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Protesters calling for an end to enforced disappearances in Pakistan’s Balochistan province ended a week long sit-in in the capital on Monday, after an assurance that Prime Minister Imran Khan will meet them next month.

Balochistan, where separatist militants have waged an insurgency against the state that has grown in profile as ally China develops mining there, has long been plagued by enforced disappearances. Families say men are picked up by the security forces, disappear often for years, and are sometimes found dead, with no official explanation.

“We don’t have any big hopes from this government, but the way they have reassured us, we also have decided to give them a chance,” Sammi Baloch, who has been searching for her father Deen Muhammad since 2009, told Reuters.

She and other families have protested across Pakistan for years to little avail.

The Islamabad protesters – 10 families of missing men and around a hundred supporters – said they will return if assurances are not met.

Security officials say many of Balochistan’s so-called disappeared have links to the separatists. But actual court punishments have been rare.

Pakistan’s military and human rights ministry did not respond to requests for comment for this story, including questions about specific family members sought by the protesters.

For one week, protesters held up photos of missing relatives under the watchful eyes of police surrounding them.

Among them was 60-year-old Baz Khatoon, who clutched a stack of news reports and court filings about her son, Rashid Hussain Brohi. She believes he was detained in Dubai in December 2018, was flown to Pakistan six months later, and then vanished without a trace.

Khatoon said her son moved to Dubai to be safe in 2017 after three male relatives, including his father, had turned up dead after being taken away by security forces over the years.

After Brohi was detained, Amnesty International and U.N. bodies looking into disappearances called on the Emirati authorities not to deport him to Pakistan for fear he would be killed there.

Brohi’s mother has obtained a copy of an Emirati travel document showing Brohi’s Emirati visa was cancelled in June, 2019, and that he left two days later on a flight to a small airport in Balochistan. The UAE government media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Pakistani news channels reported that he was brought back to Pakistan and charged with sending funds to gunmen responsible for a 2018 attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi. But Khatoon said she has been given no official explanation of his whereabouts.

“Just tell us our kids are safe, put them in jail, we don’t have any problem with that,” Khatoon said.

“If they were in jail at least we would know they are safe, at least I could take some food there for my son, or a blanket to keep him warm, or a change of clothes.”

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