Pakistan arrests activists to stop them from protesting in Islamabad against extrajudicial killings – The Associated Press

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This is a locator map for Pakistan with its capital, Islamabad, and the Kashmir region. (AP Photo)
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s police used water cannons, swung batons, and arrested dozens of activists in an overnight crackdown to stop protesters from entering the capital to denounce the forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the militancy-ravaged southwest, the organizers said Thursday.
About 200 protesters, some of them families with children, began their nearly 1,600-kilometer (1,000-mile) convoy around Nov. 28, heading toward Islamabad from the town of Turbat. They planned to rally in the capital to draw attention to the death of Balaach Mola Bakhsh. The 24-year-old died in November while in police custody in Baluchistan province.
Police say Bakhsh was carrying explosives when he was arrested in November, and two days later he died when militants ambushed a police van that was transporting him. Activists say police were holding him since they arrested him in October, and suspect he was killed intentionally in a staged counterterrorism operation. Such arrests by security forces are common in Baluchistan and elsewhere, and people who are missing are often found to have been in the custody of authorities, sometimes for years.
Since then, human rights activists and Bakhsh’s family have been demanding justice for him. They also want the counterterrorism officials who they claim killed the man arrested.
The gas-rich southwestern Baluchistan province at the border of Afghanistan and Iran has been a scene of low-level insurgency by Baloch nationalists for more than two decades. Baloch nationalists initially wanted a share from the provincial resources, but later initiated an insurgency for independence. They also say security forces have been holding hundreds of their supporters for the past several years.

As the group of vehicles carrying the demonstrators reached the outskirts of Islamabad before dawn Thursday, police asked them to stop and turn around. When the demonstrators refused, officers started beating dozens of activists with batons.
Police in Islamabad insisted they avoided the use of force against the rallygoers, but videos shared by the rallygoers on social media showed police dragging women, swinging batons and using water cannons in freezing temperatures to disperse the protesters. Police were also seen throwing demonstrators into police trucks.
It drew condemnation from human rights organizations nationwide.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-haq Kakar, who is from Baluchistan, sent his Cabinet members to hold talks with the families of missing Boluch people.
After these talks, Information Minister Murtaza Solangi said at a news conference in Islamabad that the government has started releasing most of the rallygoers, including women and children, and remaining people will also be freed after investigations. Authorities say the government will consider the demands of the demonstrators.
Baloch activist Farida Baluch tweeted that her “elderly mother and niece, symbols of resilience, faced arrest and brutality in Islamabad.” She asked the international community to take “notice of the plight of Baloch activists and missing persons’ families.”
In a statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan strongly condemned “the violent police crackdown on Baloch protestors in Islamabad” where it said women, children and older people subjected to unwarranted force in the form of water cannons and batons.
“Numerous women protestors have reportedly been arrested and separated from their male relatives and allies,” the statement said. It said the rallygoers were denied their constitutional right to peacefully protest. The commission demanded an immediate release of the detainees and sought an apology from the government.
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