The London trial of Baloch human rights activists on trumped up terrorism charges revealed high level collusion between the British government and the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf. Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were threatened: arrest the Baloch exiles in London or Pakistan will halt all cooperation with Britain in the ‘war on terror.’ This is the story on how a supposedly democratic western government caved in to the demands of a military tyrant and attempted to sacrifice two innocent Baloch rights campaigners – but failed.
Baloch nationalists and human rights defenders, Hyrbyair Marri and Faiz Baluch, were finally acquitted of terrorism charges in February 2009, after a two-month trial at Woolwich Crown Court in London.
Mr Marri, the son of the leader of the Marri clan, is a former Balochistan MP from 1997-2002, and was the Minster for Construction and Works in the provincial assembly, 1997-1998. He fled to Britain in 2000, fearing arrest, torture and possible assassination by Musharraf's men. Mr Baluch is a human rights activist who posts news to Baloch websites. Both are exiles based in London.
The evidence that emerged during their trial suggests that Marri and Baluch were framed by the Musharraf dictatorship, in an attempt to silence their highly effective campaigning against Pakistan’s human rights abuses in annexed and occupied Balochistan.
The case originated with the Musharraf regime orchestrating fabricated charges of terrorism against Mr Marri and then pressing the British authorities to arrest him. Pakistani agents reportedly issued an ultimatum to the UK government: Future bilateral cooperation in fighting terrorism would depend on Britain agreeing to arrest and deport Marri and Baluch to Pakistan. To its credit, the then government of Tony Blair refused the extradition request, on the grounds that the terrorism charges against the two men carried a sentence of death and there were doubts that the men would get a fair trial.
In response, the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies made it clear that anti-terror cooperation with Britain would be wound down unless the men’s campaigning was halted. To its shame, the British government eventually capitulated. It decided that Marri and Baluch were expendable for the so-called ‘greater good’ of anti-terrorist cooperation with the Pakistani regime.
Police and security agencies in the UK initiated the terrorism charges based on evidence and leads provided to them by Musharraf's dictatorship – a dictatorship that the defendants had long campaigned against. The British authorities chose to ignore the fact that Musharraf's men in the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, are notorious for framing political opponents, especially Baloch nationalists and human rights defenders.
Marri and Baluch were duly arrested in London in December 2007, just a couple of weeks after Pakistani agents assassinated Marri’s brother, Balach Marri, and just a few months after Musharraf demanded that the British government arrest Baloch activists in London. In exchange for their arrest, Musharraf offered to hand over Rashid Rauf to the UK, implying that action against the Baloch activists was a precondition for surrendering Rauf to the UK authorities, as
reported in The Guardian on 28 March 2007.
Rauf was wanted in Britain in connection with the 2006 terror plot involving liquid explosives on trans-Atlantic airliners, which resulted in the conviction of three men in London in September 2008. He was also being sought in connection with a murder in the UK.
To soothe Musharraf, Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited him to Downing Street in January 2008. A day later, the Pakistani dictator held a press conference for Pakistani journalists in London where he allegedly denounced Marri as a terrorist and praised the British government and police for cooperating with his regime.
To the delight of Pakistan’s security agencies, Marri and Baluch were refused bail and spent many months in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, where al-Qaida suspects are held. They were eventually bailed, but on very restrictive conditions.
Claims of connivance between British leaders and Musharraf are credible. For nine years, the UK’s Labour government supported the Pakistani dictator politically, economically and militarily, despite him having overthrown a democratically-elected government in 1999. It sold him the military equipment that his army used to kill innocent Baloch people. Britain’s main ally, the US, supplied the F-16 fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters that Mushaarraf’s army and air force used to bomb and strafe villages in Balochistan.
Despite the elaborate bid to frame Marri and Baluch, things began to unravel shortly before their trial began in London in late 2008. The acting Interior Minister of the then newly-elected democratic government of Pakistan, Rehman Malik, announced that the terror charges against Mr Marri in Pakistan had been dropped. Malik stated that the case against Marri was flawed and had been politically orchestrated by the Musharraf regime. Although this discredited the whole basis on which Marri and Baluch were charged in London, the British authorities pressed on with the trial.
It was obvious that the UK government was still under pressure from Musharraf’s men. Despite Musharaff being out of office, his allies were still in power, within Pakistan’s shadowy military and intelligence agencies. They were demanding that the prosecution continue. It did, but not the way these forces of darkness had hoped.
During the trial, the defence showed that the British government collaborated with the illegal, unconstitutional regime of Pervez Musharraf, which in 1999 overthrew the democratic government of Pakistan.
This collaboration was shown to include arming the illegal Musharraf regime to enable it to prosecute an illegal war in Balochistan, where the Pakistani armed forces have perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity.
During the trial, the judge accepted that the Baloch people are an oppressed minority, and that they have been victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These crimes include the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, torture, detention without trial and collective punishments such as the destruction of villages, crops, livestock and wells – all of which are illegal acts under international law.
Despite this persecution and terrorisation by the Pakistani state, the judge suggested that the Baloch people do not have the right to use violence to defend themselves and that anyone who supports or condones armed resistance groups in Balochistan is endorsing terrorism. Under Britain’s tough anti-terror laws, even the mere political or moral approval of armed self-defence is now a serious criminal offence.
The jury was unconvinced by the judges concerns and by the flimsy circumstantial evidence against Marri and Baluch. They seemed to understand the oppression of the Baloch people and the collusion between the British government and the Musharraf dictatorship. By a clear majority verdict, they acquitted both men.
Speaking after the trial Hyrbyair Marri expressed his satisfaction at the outcome:
"My faith in the British people has been vindicated. The 12 jurors upheld the values of justice and recognised the Baloch people’s right to self-defence. They decided that we were no more guilty of terrorism than Nelson Mandela and the heroes of the anti-Nazi resistance in occupied Europe. The people of Balochistan will be delighted that the British courts have ruled that campaigning for democracy, human rights and self-determination is not a crime.
“The police and prosecution never had a credible case against us. It was based on a malign misinterpretation of purely circumstantial evidence. All their evidence against us had an innocent explanation. The jury agreed. That is why they found us not guilty. The police have wasted possibly millions of pounds on these pointless, unfounded
allegations of terrorism,” said Mr Marri.
Briefing on human rights abuses in Balochistan
Details of Pakistan's human rights abuses in Balochistan are well documented by Pakistani and international human rights groups, including the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and
Human Rights Watch.