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Pashtun Rights Activist Detained, Expelled From Pakistani Province

Thousands of people attended a Pashtun Tahafuz Movement rally in Miramsha, North Waziristan, on November 15, 2020.
Thousands of people attended a Pashtun Tahafuz Movement rally in Miramsha, North Waziristan, on November 15, 2020.

Pakistani security forces have detained and forcibly expelled a prominent ethnic Pashtun rights activist, Sanna Ejaz, from the restive province of Balochistan.

Ejaz is a leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a civil rights movement that has come under a growing government crackdown.

Video footage uploaded on social media showed security forces ushering Ejaz into a vehicle on January 17.

Moments before she was detained in the district of Zhob, Ejaz told RFE/RL that paramilitary forces notified her that she was barred from entering Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran.

“They are saying my presence could cause unrest,” she told RFE/RL.

Ejaz, a resident of the neighboring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said she had travelled to Balochistan to launch a library for women.

The library was established by Waak, a movement cofounded by Ejaz and dedicated to promoting women’s rights and education.

Police said the provincial government in November 2020 issued a notice banning PTM leaders, including Ejaz, from traveling to Balochistan for 90 days.

Balochistan is the scene of a separatist insurgency and a brutal state crackdown that has killed thousands of people since 2004.

Activists claim Pakistan’s powerful military has committed widespread abuses in Balochistan, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings of political activists and suspected separatists, arbitrary arrests, and torture. The province is home to a sizeable Pashtun community.

Ejaz was among several PTM leaders charged with making anti-state speeches during an unsanctioned rally in the port city of Karachi, in Sindh Province, on December 6, 2020.

Among them was Ali Wazir, a lawmaker and PTM leader, who was arrested on sedition charges over accusations he made anti-state comments during the rally.

Wazir remains in police custody. He is expected to be presented before an anti-terrorism court.

The PTM has campaigned since 2018 for the civil rights of Pakistan’s estimated 35 million ethnic Pashtuns, many of whom live near the border of Afghanistan where the military has conducted campaigns it says defeated the Pakistani Taliban.

The movement has attracted tens of thousands of people to public rallies in recent years to denounce the powerful Pakistani Army's heavy-handed tactics that have killed thousands of Pashtun civilians and forced millions more to abandon their homes since 2003.

International rights groups say authorities have banned peaceful rallies organized by the PTM and some of its leading members have been arbitrarily detained and prevented from traveling within the country. Some members have also faced charges of sedition and cybercrimes.

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