More than 100 buses have been criss-crossing London with advertisements for “Free Balochistan” as part of a campaign by Baloch nationalists against Pakistan’s alleged human rights abuses in the resource-rich province.
The campaign was launched days after a similar drive on London’s taxis was stopped by authorities. The advertisements on the buses have the slogans “Free Balochistan”, “Save the Baloch People” and “Stop Enforced Disappearances”.
Transport for London (TfL), the body that runs the city’s transport network, removed similar advertisements on taxis by the World Baloch Organisation following complaints by Pakistan, which described the campaign as “sinister” and “malicious”.
However, WBO said it would continue to peacefully and respectfully speak out against rights violations in Balochistan.
Bhawal Mengal, a member of WBO, told Hindustan Times: “We have delivered our message through taxis, billboards across London and now on over 100 buses. So far the buses are carrying the adverts but we can expect pressure again from Pakistan authorities.
“We are in touch with TfL to challenge the removal of our adverts from taxis, and will do it again if they are removed from buses that are actually owned by TfL. This is the third phase of our campaign after taxis and billboards.
“The attempts by the Pakistan government to pressure the UK to ban our adverts have failed. The campaign is powering ahead and will continue for weeks to come. The bullying tactics of Pakistan are an attack on freedom of expression.”
Mengal added, “They are an anti-democratic bid to censor the voice of the Baloch people and cover up the war crimes of the Pakistan Army in Balochistan. This is a peaceful advertising campaign. Pakistan’s aggressive reaction is a bare-faced attempt to intimidate the UK government and Baloch human rights defenders.”
Several individuals associated with the Baloch campaign against the Pakistan government are based in Britain, including the influential Khan of Kalat, Amir Ahmed Sulaiman Daud, who left Pakistan in 2006 and secured refuge here.
Noordin Mengal, another WBO human rights campaigner, said: “Tens of thousands of Baloch people have been murdered or been ‘disappeared’ by the Pakistani security forces. The killings are happening right now and are sadly aided by American weapon systems that are being diverted to attack the secular and progressive Baloch people, including the misuse of US-supplied F-16 fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters.”
Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but least populated province, has for long been plagued by an insurgency by armed Baloch nationalist groups. In recent years, the bodies of hundreds of Baloch activists have been found dumped on the roadside, with rights groups blaming the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies for their killing.