Police in Islamabad have arrested hundreds of women and children and fired tear gas to disperse a female-led protest at enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings in Pakistan’s volatile south-west, officials and activists said on Thursday.
Wives, sisters and daughters of so-called missing persons from Balochistan province rallied thousands of people across the country and reached Islamabad early on Thursday, protest leader Mahrang Baloch said.
The fresh protests began on December 6, following the killing of a young man in the Balochistan city of Turbat by anti-terrorism police weeks earlier, activist Pirdhan Baloch said.
The protesters covered at least 2,000 kilometers from Turbat to Islamabad, rallying in all the major cities on the way.
Thousands of men have either gone missing or their mutilated bodies have been dumped in various parts of Balochistan, which has been roiled for decades by a separatist insurgency.
The activists and families blame the killings and disappearances on Pakistan’s powerful spy agencies and the military.
The father of protest leader Mahrang Baloch, a medical doctor, was kidnapped when she was a child and his mutilated body was later found in a different town, said Pirdhan Baloch, who is not related to her.
She has since been rallying women across the province along with the sisters and daughters of other missing persons for several years.
At least 200 people were arrested in an overnight crackdown, Islamabad’s police spokesman Zia Bajwa said on Thursday.
Global and national rights bodies including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the use of force against the peaceful protestors.