Dozens of Baloch students have gathered outside the National Press Club of Islamabad to protest the harassment and profiling of Baloch students and the ‘prevalent culture of fear’ at Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad. The students reported multiple instances of harassment and interrogation by an individual who they identified as ‘Major Murtaza’.
Following a peaceful demonstration, police reportedly attacked the students and snatched away several students’ phones. In response, students moved to block the road next to the press club and MNA Mohsin Dawar was also present on the scene.
In a statement released by the group and shared by journalist Asad Ali Toor, the students recounted the harassment and subsequent disappearance of M.Phil student Hafeez Baloch. The statement alleges that prior to his disappearance, Hafeez Baloch had received a phone call to meet one Major Murtaza on the QAU campus. Hafeez had declined the meeting and disappeared the following day, the statement claimed.
The students further claimed that Hafeez was not the first Baloch student approached by Major Murtaza. In January, the students claim that a professor had told them to meet with an ‘old friend’, Major Murtaza, to discuss some academic research.
“The Baloch students were told to gather in a separate room and Major Murtaza began asking them questions about the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan,” the statement said.
The statement also claims that “various students were tasked with contacting their fellow students to collect personal data/information on Baloch students enrolled in QAU [including] names, photographs, current addresses, ideological affiliations, etc.” The statement further claims that an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) stationed at Secretariat Police Station had tasked students with the collection of this information.
Hafeez Baloch has been missing since early February, when he disappeared while volunteering at a local school in his hometown of Khuzdar, Balochistan. Reports that he was ‘taken away by security forces’ led to the condemnation of his disappearance by students and colleagues and demands for his return.
Hafeez Baloch is one of multiple Baloch students and young people who have been reportedly forcibly disappeared. The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) stated that it had registered at least 5,000 cases of ‘Balochistan’s forcibly disappeared.’ According to the group, at times security forces do not deny the detentions, but claim that the individuals in question are militant Baloch fighters.
Soon after Hafeez’s disappearance, Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah questioned the state’s involvement in the disappearance of hundreds of dissidents across the country, in a separate, unrelated case.