Protests in Pakistan Result in Hundreds of Arrests

( – Authorities in Muslim-majority Pakistan cracked down hard on female-led protests in Islamabad, the nation’s capital.

Hundreds of women were arrested – around 200 people – including the protest’s leader, Mahrang Baloch. The women were protesting against what they claim to be enforced disappearances of men in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, which lies in the southwestern region of the country.

The protests were triggered when a 24-year-old Balochistan man, Balach Mola Bakhsh, was shot and killed in November. He was arrested in October for allegedly being a terrorist. It was only after a month when police said that he was arrested for possession of explosives. Later, authorities said that Bakhsh, along with a few others, was involved in a shootout with police, leading to his death. Bakhsh’s relatives, however, strongly dispute the claim, and allege that he was executed while in police custody.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters as they entered Islamabad on December 21. Hundreds of protesters had trekked more than 1,000 miles to make their voice heard in the capital, protesting what they called the “genocide” of the Baloch minority. The protesters attempted to enter what is called the “Red Zone,” the district that houses the country’s executive, judicial and legislative buildings, and were met with police officers in full riot gear and bearing batons.

Video of the protests and the arrests show many protesters being forcibly bundled into police vehicles, with several sporting injuries and visibly bleeding.

In a post on Twitter, Mahrang Baloch told supporters the has been taken into custody by the Islamabad police, and asked the public to stand up against what she called the “oppression of this fascist state.”

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, and has seen a spate in what locals call “self-enforced disappearances.” Individuals such as journalists, political workers, students, and human rights activists have vanished without a trace, allegedly because of efforts from Pakistan’s intelligence operatives. These disappearances are untraceable and cannot be dealt with by the courts and the government also refuses to acknowledge that they happen in the first place.

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