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Bullying tactic? Man allegedly harassed for his role in ‘anti-tax movement’

By Shabbir Mir
GILGIT: A supporter of the “anti-tax movement” has alleged administration officials in Hunza Valley are harassing him to give up his struggle against the withdrawal of the tax rebate.

Speaking to The Express Tribune on Saturday, Ikramullah Baig, a resident of Hunza and supporter of Awami Workers Party (AWP) leader Baba Jan, said a naib tehsildar paid a visit to his shop recently.

“He threatened me to show him the banner inscribed with anti-state slogans,” Ikramullah said. “I assured him that we did not have such material and are not against the state. However, the officials did not listen to me. He ransacked my shop and said he would find the banner himself.”

He added, “While he was searching through the shop, a group of politicians, who were also present at the shop, objected to his actions.”

According to Ikramullah, the official did not have a search warrant.

“When he was asked if he had a search warrant, the naib tehsildar said he had the authority to search the premises without a warrant,” he said.

Ikramullah said a banner has been put up near his shop during protests against the withdrawal of rebate.

“The banner carried slogans against the imposition of taxes,” he said. “There was nothing unusual about them as similar slogans and banners were seen across the region.”

Link with by-elections?

“Such instances of harassment could be a means to keep AWP workers from voting,” Ikramullah said.

He added by-elections are scheduled to be held at GBLA-6, Hunza this year and such tactics could be an attempt to suppress the voices of these workers.

The seat fell vacant after Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz candidate Mir Ghazanfar was made the governor. Jan, who contested polls from behind bars, stood runner-up.

In August 2011, 25 out of the 457 families whose land was affected by the formation of Attabad Lake took to the streets in Aliabad in Hunza. Police wanted to disperse the protesters to clear Karakoram Highway for the then chief minister, Mehdi Shah, who was visiting the valley.

Hence, teargas was used and gunshots were fired. During the firing, Sherullah Baig and his son Afzal Baig, along two protesters, were killed. This further agitated protesters and they eventually torched government offices and looted a police station in Aliabad.

Police registered a case and arrested over 100 suspects, including Jan. A judicial probe was conducted but the report was not made public.

Jan was sentenced to life imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court in Gilgit last year for ransacking police stations and torching government property in Hunza.

Condemnation

When contacted, Adviser to G-B CM Abid Baig condemned the harassment and vowed to take up the matter with the deputy commissioner and the chief minister.

“We are sorry for what has happened,” Abid said.

The adviser added freedom of expression is the basic right of every citizen and his government will ensure it is upheld at all costs.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2016.

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