Prominent Baloch activist Karima Baloch was found dead in unexplained circumstances in the Canadian city of Toronto on Tuesday, a day after she was reported missing by the local police.
Karima, a former chairperson of the Baloch Students Organisation Azad (BSO-Azad), is the second prominent Baloch campaigner to be found dead in a foreign country this year. In April, the body of Baloch journalist Sajid Hussain Baloch was found outside Uppsala in Sweden, weeks after he had gone missing.
Toronto Police had reported that Karima, 37, had gone missing in the city’s waterfront area on December 20.
In a statement released on Tuesday morning, Toronto Police said the matter was “currently being investigated as a non-criminal death and there are not believed to be any suspicious circumstances”.
Toronto-based Zaffar Baloch, former president of Baloch National Movement (North America) said, “Mystery shrouds this event. This should not be brushed aside. We have our suspicions.”
Amnesty International said in a tweet, “The death of activist #KarimaBaloch in Toronto, Canada is deeply shocking and must be immediately and effectively investigated. The perpetrators must be brought to justice without recourse to the death penalty.”
Karima was included in BBC’s list of 100 inspirational and influential women for 2016, in which she was described as a campaigner “for independence for Balochistan from Pakistan”. She fled Pakistan in 2016, saying she feared for her life due to threats from the army and intelligence agencies, and sought refuge in Canada.
Prominent activist Gulalai Ismail, herself living in exile in the US after escaping from Pakistan in 2019, said she was devastated by the news of Karima’s death. “I am devastated by the fact that even refuge in Canada couldn’t save her life. The stories of Baloch don’t change. They go missing and are then found dead. Be it Pakistan, Sweden or Canada.”
Karima’s asylum request was suspended by the Canadian province of Ottawa in 2016 because of BSO-Azad’s involvement in “subversion” against the Pakistan government, but she was allowed to remain in the country, according to Canadian media reports.
She was seen as a pioneer of women’s activism in Balochistan and had raised the issue of Balochistan in UN sessions in Switzerland. In 2014, she became the first woman chairperson of BSO-Azad, which has been proscribed by the Pakistan government as a terror group.
In 2016, Karima had shared a video message on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, in which she called Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “brother” and asked him to become the voice of the Baloch movement. This was days after Modi raised the Balochistan issue in his Independence Day speech.
“We appeal to you that, as our brother, you speak about the genocide and war crimes in Balochistan on international forums and become the voice of the sisters of Baloch… We will fight this on our own, we just want you to become the voice of our struggle,” Karima said in the message.
At an event held by Baloch Canadians in Toronto in 2018 to mark what they claimed to be the 70th anniversary of the illegal occupation of Balochistan by Pakistan, Karima said, “We want India to raise the issue as a human rights cause.” She felt this was an “important role” India could play, since atrocities against the Baloch were not on the world’s radar.
Karima also said at the time that India had the reach to raise what she described as the “genocide” of the Baloch people.
Baloch journalist Sajid Hussain was reported missing in Sweden in March, and his body was later found in a river. His family and friends alleged he was murdered. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the journalists’ organisation, said his mysterious disappearance and subsequent death could have been organised by Pakistani intelligence agencies because of his work as a journalist.