Followed by protests and a long march by the families of Baloch missing persons, of late it is the missing persons of Sindh that are making headlines. The abduction of Punhal Sario on August 3, a renowned human rights activist, head of Sindh Hari Porhyat Council and convener of the recently established Voice for Missing Persons (VMP) Sindh, has shaken many human rights activists and organisations.
A few days after Sario went missing, on the evening of August 7, three more well-known social activists were picked up from their homes in Mithi city of Tharparkar. According to their families, teacher and educationist Partab Shivani, teacher and writer Naseer Kumbhar, and a leader of Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) Mohammad Umer, were ‘abducted’ by plainclothes officials along with Tharparkar police personnel. Tharparkar SSP Ameer Saud Magsi told local journalists that he has no information regarding their ‘abduction’.
On the evening of August 8, law enforcers, along with the police, raided poet and activist Amar Sindhu’s house in Mirpurkhas. In a social media post, Sindhu claimed that they wanted to abduct her younger brother Najaf Ali, but he was not present at home at the time.
Sario, 58, was born in Badah town, district Larkana, but he has been living in Hyderabad for many years. It was late in the evening when he was abducted by Law Enforcement Agencies, according to family members. Since then nobody knows his whereabouts. “We called his mobile number. The call connected but no one attended the phone. We told the police about this but they didn’t even bother to check the call data to trace Sario’s whereabouts,” says Advocate Ali Palh, a representative of Sindh Human Rights Defenders.
Sario’s family members tell The News on Sunday (TNS) what they heard from witnesses: on August 3, after attending a birthday celebration of his friend at Cafe Khanabadosh in Hyderabad, Sario was returning home at around 11pm when a police party stopped him near Sindhi Language Authority. Some of those who stopped him were in plainclothes while others were police commandos; they were driving a white double cabin (Number PS 2939) in which they took him away.
“As soon as we found out, we approached the police, but they didn’t help us. Since then, no one knows his whereabouts,” says Sughra, Sario’s wife.
Family members say that the police initially declined to lodge the FIR saying they were not authorised to register a case against spy agencies. Sario’s daughter, Marvi Sario, has appealed to the IG Sindh and DG Rangers through social media and requested them to recover her father. “My father is diabetic and a cardiac patient, he cannot survive without his regular medicines,” says Marvi. “I humbly request the authorities to produce my father before a court if he is involved in any illegal activity.”
Marvi complained that her father stood for the rights of missing persons but when he himself went missing no one came forward to help: “Many human rights activists are hiding so that we cannot ask them for help.”
Sario’s abduction has been covered by many local newspapers, especially Sindhi language newspapers. Sario’s case was also echoed in the Pakistani Senate by Sassui Palijo and Taj Haider, both Pakistan People’s Party senators from Sindh.
“Even if someone has committed a wrong, they have a right to the due process of law and fair trial,” says Palijo while talking to TNS. “You may agree or disagree with Sario’s activism but his arbitrary disappearance raises serious questions. We expect Sario, Shivani, Inam Abassi, and others to be produced before a court of law so they can get access to justice as guaranteed under the constitution of the land.”
Civil society activists have held protest demonstrations in Karachi, Hyderabad, Umerkot, Shahdadkot, Mithi, Badin and several other cities and towns across Sindh and demanded the Sindh government to recover Sario. A statement issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Sindh chapter has also demanded for Sario’s immediate release.
“He [Sario] was actively pursuing the cases of missing political workers, he had also led a long march from Hyderabad to Karachi and observed a week-long hunger strike outside the Karachi Press Club, last month,” reads the HRCP statement. It also appeals to the CM Sindh, IG Sindh and others to recover the abducted political and human rights activists.
A joint statement issued last week by Professor Mushtaq Mirani, Ali Palh, Amar Sindhu, Arfana Mallah and others said that Sario was not involved in any illegal or anti-state activity; he was just raising the voice against violations of human rights in Sindh.
Sorath Lohar, the deputy convener of VMP Sindh, tells TNS that Sario intensified the struggle of families of missing persons and he was picked up “to sabotage the struggle”.
In its last annual report, HRCP states that 728 persons were abducted in Pakistan during 2016. The report further stated that between November 2014 to December 2016, at least 17 mutilated bodies of abducted Sindhi nationalists, mostly of the JSMM, have been found. The report quotes Asma Jahangir as saying that persons with liberal thoughts are being targeted.
Cases of abductions of Sindhi nationalists — between 2011 and 2013 — were highlighted by the Sindhi press and the cases of abducted nationalists including Shakeel Khonharo, Roshan Brohi, Allah Wadhayo Mahar, Asif Panhwar, Wajid Langah, Waheed Lashari, Sarwech Peerzado, Faheem Bhutto and Paryal Shah made the headlines. Most of them were young and belonged to either Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz or JSQM.
Mysteriously, some of these nationalists were also burnt. In 2011, four activists of nationalist parties in Sanghar who were burnt alive in a car, including Sarai Qurban Khuawar and Roplo Cholyani. Also, Masood Khan Quraishi, brother of Bashir Khan Qureshi, the former chairman of JSQM, along with his aide Salman Wadho were attacked and burnt alive, according to their post mortem report.
Sindhi nationalism has a long history. G.M. Syed, the renowned politician who brought the Pakistan Resolution into the Sindh Assembly in 1946, formed the Jeay Sindh Movement in the early 1970s to achieve a Sindhudesh followed by formation of Bangladesh. Syed was kept under house arrest for several years. After his death in 1995, his party spilt into smaller groups and almost all the groups followed his non-violent way of politics — except JSMM, led by Shafi Muhammad Burfat, which is a violent party. Established in 2000, the JSMM has so far claimed responsibility for incidents, such as blowing up railway tracks. In 2013, the government declared the JSMM a banned terrorist organisation; many of the missing persons belong to JSMM.
“So far 51 persons went missing in Sindh, out of which 10 are ordinary citizens who don’t belong to any Sindhi nationalist or even any political party,” said Sario in a video interview with BBC Urdu Facebook Live on Eid-ul-Fitr. The interview was conducted while he was sitting with family members of abducted nationalists on hunger strike outside Karachi Press Club. Many of these abductees have been gone for a long time; the young Fazila Sarki has been missing for the last nine years and Imran Jokhio of Nausheroferoz has not been seen in seven years.
Human Rights activists are worried about Sario’s safety and concerned about his return. “After Balochistan, law enforcement agencies are abducting, killing and dumping the bodies of young people in Sindh, especially Sindhi nationalists, which must be stopped now,” says Asad Iqbal Butt, the vice chairman of HRCP.
Sindh police claims they are not taken into confidence before the ‘abduction’ of any citizens. “We only come to know later and it is difficult for us to probe into the matter,” says IG Sindh A.D. Khawaja, talking to TNS over the telephone.