Price to pay: Fear dominates lives of activists

The Shia Public Affairs Committee (ShiaPAC) appreicates Pakistani journalists and rights activists, Khurram Zaki, editor of Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP), Mr Jibran Nasir, Mr Zafar Abbas and others for their selfless efforts, networking and advocacy against takfiri terrorists and extremists of the Lal Masjid and ASWJ. 

Leader of outlawed outfit ASWJ denies threatening activists, claims their lives are also in danger. PHOTO: UNITED AGAINST TERRORISM
Leader of outlawed outfit ASWJ denies threatening activists, claims their lives are also in danger. PHOTO: UNITED AGAINST TERRORISM

KARACHI: A group of activists who are brave enough to fight an apparently losing battle against banned outfits in the country find their lives dominated by fear — for the lives of their loved ones.

The activists of ‘United Against Terrorism’ are finding their personal photos marked with threatening messages posted on social media, being nominated in false FIRs and receiving warnings from the police of being targeted in suicide attacks.

In the aftermath of the Peshawar school attack, the group launched a series of protests against banned militant organisations that have regrouped under new names. They feel these organisations are instigating hate speech and targeting minority groups.

For the past month, activist Khurram Zaki’s four children have not gone to school due to the fear of a kidnapping. “Our lives are in danger,” he told The Express Tribune. The threats started when his group called for a complete ban on the activities of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and the arrest of its Karachi leader Aurangzeb Farooqi for his hate speech, as well as taking back the security the government has given him.

Zaki, who is an editor for the blog ‘Let Us Build Pakistan’ and a former television journalist, started his struggle long before the Peshawar school attack. He has been quietly campaigning against sectarian violence since the attacks on the Hazaras in Quetta started. But it was only recently that the group came to the limelight when they joined hands with social activist Jibran Nasir for demonstrations after the Peshawar attack.

Campaigning has now become too difficult. In Karachi, the conversation with these activists takes place at the office of a social organisation near Numaish Chowrangi. They are careful not to reveal the location beforehand, and a young man zigzags on his motorcycle through the lanes leading to the office.

Inside, there is a small group of people of both sects sitting together, condemning violence — Zaki, software house owner Samar Abbas, social worker Syed Zafar Abbas, and a Dawood University lecturer Talib.

Recently, the group received a call from the law enforcement agencies who asked them to stop naming the ASWJ leaders as they may be targeted. “They never mentioned what action they will take against those threatening us,” Samar pointed out.

“We are left on our own,” said Abbas as he showed text messages from unknown men warning them of dire consequences once these activists are out of jail. Abbas also showed their pictures with hateful captions on the Facebook page of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan’s Gulbahar sector.

Abusive wall-chalking carrying the names of these activists have also been spotted in Nagan Chowrangi, Lasbela and Numaish. In the recent ‘attack’ on ASWJ leader Aurangzeb Farooqi in Quaidabad, Jibran and Zaki were nominated in the FIR.

For their part, the ASWJ leaders deny threatening these activists. “We are not the ones stepping out on the roads and demanding that security be taken away,” said Farooqi. “Since they started this [movement], we have been regularly attacked.” He demanded the government provide him security as it is its responsibility to protect citizens who face threats. “If the activists are being threatened by us, then they should give proof.”

Abbas clarified that their movement was not only against the ASWJ but against all outfits banned by the government. “We are against all parties present in the list of National Counterterrorism Authority,” he said. “If there a Shia organisation that is banned, we are against it too.” He said that their movement was apolitical.

The ‘United Against Terrorism’ men are, however, determined to continue their movement. Zaki, who runs a page on Facebook called ‘Sunnis against Shia Genocide (SSG)’, felt that people are now accepting that Shia genocide is taking place. “If Sunnis speaks, their voices will be more effective because they are in the majority,” he said. The group plans to hold their next protest at Guru Mandir on March 16 with a simple message: they will not give up.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2015

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