Persecution of Kashmiris on the other side of the LoC

Khawaja Waseem Ayub, a social media activist from Neelum Valley in Pakistani occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK), was arrested last week under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (2016) of Pakistan. The Act is equally applicable to PoJK.

Using social media as a tool for spreading awareness among the youth, Khawaja has been actively exposing the role and involvement of the local administration in the plunder of natural resources in Neelum Valley. He was also exposing the widespread corruption in the local administration.

The deputy commissioner of Neelum issued orders to arrest Khawaja and subsequently he was locked up at Athmaqam police station and an FIR accusing him of committing Cyber-crime was lodged against him.

The news of Khawaja’s arrest spread like wide fire. On Saturday, a group of youth from the city of Mirpur held a protest rally chanting slogans against the deputy commissioner and demanding Khawaja’s unconditional release.

The witch-hunt and persecution of Kashmiris carried out by the authorities of those voicing concerns regarding the exploitation of the natural resources of PoJK can be termed as both vicious and brutal.

In June Dr Ghulam Abbas, a PoJK born Canadian citizen and an advocate of religious tolerance among Hindu and Muslims living in Kashmir, was shot at his doorstep in his village near the city of Kotli. Against All advice, Dr Abbas had travelled Kashmir to attend his fathers’ funeral. He ended up dead just two weeks after his arrival.

On February 17, 2013, Ali Murtaza a young man died in military custody after being tortured with an electric drill machine and his body cut open. His only fault was that he was visiting his sister near the village at the LoC. According to his family and eye witnesses Ali was arrested by the Pakistan secret services and kept at the border check post near Kotli.

Advocate Arif Shahid, another critic of Pakistan’s role in keeping the population in PoJK subjugated was shot at his house in Rawalpindi on May 14, 2013. Afzal Sulehria, a young human rights activist from the capital city of Muzaffarabad and political activist was found mysteriously dead in his house after he suffered a ‘heart attack’ earlier this year.

Police has opened fire on peaceful protestor on many occasions leading to fatalities. On March 16, 2018 Naeem Bhatt was killed during a protest march in Madarpur near the LoC.

On July 26, 2021, a military vehicle in Sharda in Neelum had broken down. They flagged down a private car and demanded that they be dropped at the military camp. On refusal they began to physically drag women passengers out of the car. A group of young men intervened which made the military men angry and they opened fire on unarmed youth killing one and wounding at least 15 people including a Police officer who happened to be at the location and was trying to mediated between the youth and the men in uniform.

Tanveer Ahmed, a British of Kashmiri origin who had returned to PoJK to continue with his research paper on human rights situation in the occupied territory was arrested and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for taking down a Pakistani flag from Dadyal city’s public square in August 2020. He claimed that Pakistani flag cannot be raised in PoJK since it was a disputed land.

Scores of young men living in the villages dotted along the LoC are forced by Pakistani jihadi groups to join terrorist outfits funded by Pakistan to create havoc in the Valley of Kashmir. On refusal they are persecuted and target killed.

Hundreds of youth from the aforementioned villages has left their homeland and travelled to the middle East or Europe and taken up unskilled and low pay odd jobs.

Many Kashmiris of PoJK origin including myself have been forced to go in exile due to threats to our lives. Jamil Maqsood, a human rights activist who has frequently raised the issue of human rights at UNHRC sessions in Geneva and at the European Parliament has been black listed and denied a passport to travel to his homeland in Rawalakot in district Poonch.

Pakistan has stationed 12 brigades of its military in PoJK. Secret service agents are running tea houses and driving rickshaws in every major city in PoJK. Those who travel to or from PoJK have to pass through police and military check points and are asked to produce photo identity cards. And anyone suspected of dissent is nabbed by the police and the Pakistani secret service the ISI.

As Khawaja Waseem Ayub awaits his fate at a police lockup in PoJK, one wonders why the world turns a blind eye towards the persecution of the Kashmiris living on the other side of the LoC.

(Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK. The views expressed arepersonal.)