Human rights activists abducted and ill-treated for protesting against illegal occupation of lakes

Association

The climate of impunity in Pakistan has emboldened hostile actors and fostered an increasingly violent environment for human rights defenders. In its July 2017 review of Pakistan, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed grave concern over 

"repeated reports of abduction, killings and intimidation of human rights defenders, particularly those fighting for economic, social and cultural rights, allegedly committed in some cases by State agents, including members of military intelligence services”.

On 25th December 2017, Mohammad Ali Shah, chair of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) and a prominent human rights activist in Sindh province, along with PFF’s Sujawal District President Noor Muhammad, and at least two others were abducted by armed persons allegedly linked to the provincial Fisheries Minister, Muhammad Ali Malkani, and his brother Shaukat Ali Malkani.

The activists were abducted while surveying various lakes in the Sujawal district of Sindh province to assess the extent of the illegal occupation of the lakes.

The abductors ill-treated the activists and forcibly took them to the Provincial Minister’s guesthouse in Shahbander Tehsil, Thatta district where they were detained. Noor Muhammad and two other men were allegedly beaten for four hours. All were subsequently released.

When the activists attempted to register a complaint (First Information Report - FIR) about their abduction and ill-treatment, the local police of Ladyu initially refused to accept it. Speaking at a press conference on 16th January 2018, Mohammad Ali Shah claimed that police were trying to cover up the incident. He stated that:

“No action has been taken after registration of the FIR so far and no arrests have been made”.

Peaceful Assembly

Mohammad Ali Shah and Noor Muhammad have played a significant role in mobilising the local fishing community to claim their rights. They have organised protests and hunger strikes against the illegal occupation of more than 600 fresh water bodies and lakes by wealthy individuals in positions of authority, thus inhibiting poorer community members who rely on the lakes for fishing from obtaining a livelihood.