Prominent Baloch activist Karima Baloch was found dead in unexplained circumstances in the Canadian city of Toronto on Monday, a day after she was reported missing by the local police.
Karima Baloch, a former chairperson of the Baloch Students Organization-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 went missing.
Toronto police had reported that Karima, 37, had gone missing in the city’s waterfront area on December 20. The police later said she was “located” but didn’t offer more details.
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Karima’s death was reported by both Balochistan Times and The Balochistan Post, leading news websites aimed at the Baloch community. Balochistan Times reported she was “found dead in Toronto” and that her “family has not provided more details and asked for privacy”.
“Her sudden and unexplained disappearance and death has raised serious concerns,” The Balochistan Post reported. Other reports said Karima’s husband Hammal Haidar and her brother identified the body.
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.
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.
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.
In 2016, Karima recorded a video message on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, in which she called 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 Baloch 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.