GILGIT: Following the completion of the election process in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), the government released political prisoners Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain Karbalai from Ghahkuch jail of the autonomous region on Friday.
Sources told Pakistan Today that an agreement was reached between government and protesters in Hunza a month ago for the release of the political prisoners, but the condition was that they would be freed after the completion of the election process.
Both prisoners spent nine years behind bars, before being released on Friday evening in the presence of many well-wishers and supporters. According to sources, 11 wrongly convicted prisoners had been released ahead of the election.
Iftikhar Karbalai is a senior leader of the Karakoram National Movement, a regional political party.
Baba Jan, a political activist from Hunza, is a member of the Awami Workers Party. He is currently a member of the party’s federal committee. He, along with Iftikhar Karbalai and 13 other prisoners, was serving life imprisonment in Damas jail in district Ghizer after they were convicted by an anti-terrorism court over riots that erupted in 2011.
Baba Jan was convicted by the court for participating in a demonstration against the killing of a man and his son by the police on August 11, 2011 at Aliabad, Hunza.
When a deadly landslide submerged several villages in Attabad in early 2010, Baba Jan was trying to bring to attention the consequences of climate change and resource exploitation. In 2011, after months of cold response to the disaster, the activist organised a movement to demand long delayed compensation for those affected by the disaster.
On August 12, 2011, at a demonstration during the visit of then-chief minister to Attabad Lake, the police opened fire at the protesting internally displaced persons (IDPs), killing a father, Sherullah Baig, and his son Afzal. The news sparked angry protests throughout the region.
The activist was not even present during the incident, but he was targeted because of his past activities. A month later, he and several other activists were arrested and booked under the anti-terrorist act, and thrown behind bars, where they were tortured and denied medical treatment.
Despite the victimisation, Baba Jan continued his political activities in the prison, uniting prisoners to demand humane living conditions in jail. The activist, who is the former vice president of the Awami Workers Party-Pakistan, and the founding chairman of the Progressive Youth Front, was granted bail in 2013, upon which he resumed his activism, and successfully campaigned for wheat subsidy to be restored for the region in 2014.
However, his bail was withdrawn, and he was handed life imprisonment along with 13 others. In 2015, he contested the election from his prison cell. Without funds and physically restrained by the prison boundaries, he nonetheless managed to gain the second-highest number of votes in the polls. When the seat became vacant once again the same year, the activist was not allowed to contest the election.