Pakistani businessman Munir Mengal, a member of the Balochi minority who was arrested for planning to launch a Balochi satellite TV station and was held for 22 months by Military Intelligence and the police, has talked to Reporters Without about his ordeal. He was interviewed in the European country where he has found refuge.
Mengal told Reporters Without Borders that, while held incommunicado, he was taken to see the then president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who asked him to abandon his TV station project in return for his release.
“On the evening of 26 October 2006, when I had been held incommunicado for six months, I was taken to the Saddar barracks near Karachi,” Mengal said. “Pervez Musharraf was waiting for me in a room with Gen. Azeem and Maj. Gen. Bajwa. After apologising for the way I had been treated, the president asked me, in English, to give up my TV station project. He promised to release me if I pulled out of the media domain. He also offered me a copy of his book so that I could appreciate his commitment to Pakistan. After refusing his deal, I was taken back to my cell and was tortured by MI agents again.”
Mengal also claimed that Musharraf aide Tariq Aziz offered him a political job and money in return for abandoning the planned TV station, called Baloch Voice.
“Munir Mengal’s shocking and damning account should prompt Pakistan’s civilian authorities to open an immediate investigation into the case,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is inconceivable that those responsible for this political abduction should be allowed to go unpunished.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Mengal was arrested, physically and psychologically tortured, humiliated and robbed by members of the security forces, above all Military Intelligence. If Pakistan wants to put an end to such illegal and barbaric practices, justice must be done in this case, which has been the subject of a great deal of comment by the media and by leading figures in Pakistan and abroad.”
Mengal was arrested after landing at Karachi international airport on 4th April 2006. A military officer in civilian dress confiscated his passport and took him to a military detention centre. “I was physically and psychologically tortured in the Malir barracks by Col. Muhamad Raza and majors Nadim and Atta,” he said.
“After not letting me sleep for 72 hours, they stepped up their questioning: ‘Why do you want to create this TV station’ and ‘Who gave you the idea and who is supporting you.’ Then they threw me in a small underground cell. I spent several months blindfolded and handcuffed (...) The first three days of torture were terrible. I still have back pain from the kicks I received. At the same time, the long interrogation sessions during the first five months were exhausting mental torture.”
Mengal witnessed many human rights violations in this military-run prison. “A young Balochi woman, Zarina Marri, was used as a sexual slave by the officers and, to humiliate me, they even once threw her naked into my cell. I did not know what happened to this mother of a family, who was arrested by the army in our province.”
Mengal said he was also interrogated in June or July 2006 by Iranian agents, who wanted to know about what he had done to promote the cause of the Baloch, the inhabitants of a mountainous region that includes parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
The intelligence services released him on 4 August 2007, after he had been held incommunicado for more than 16 months. As a result of a public campaign and court decisions in his favour, the military were forced to smuggle him out of Sindh province, where they had been holding him.
His ordeal should have ended on 10 September 2007, after the high court of the Pakistani province of Balochistan ruled that he had committed no crime and ordered his immediate release.
But he was arrested two days later and was placed in Khudzar prison in Balochistan. Qalat police chief Abdul Aziz Jhakrani said he was being held under the Maintenance of Public Order Act. But as his lawyer asked at the time: “How could he be disturbing public order if he was already being held by the security forces?”
Balochi policemen finally helped him leave Khudzar prison on 23 February as the military were trying to arrest him. “As I was still rejecting their blackmail, an officer came to the prison to threaten to kill me,” said Mengal, who was finally able to rejoin his family. He went into hiding for several weeks and then managed to leave country from Turbat airport.
Mengal had the idea of creating a TV station for the Balochi minority in November 2005, at a time when many human rights violations were being committed in Balochistan. “I was a prominent accountant and fairly prosperous businessman,” he said. “President Musharraf even named me ‘Legend of the Year’ in August 2005. But I wanted to set up a TV station that would give the Baloch their own voice so I sold all my properties and shares to put together the 13 million rupees necessary to start up the station. The army stole all this money while I was held. They emptied my 14 bank accounts.”
A TV station for the Baloch
The Baloch are Pakistan’s only ethnic minority that do not have a private TV station in their own language. Baloch Voice was to have started satellite broadcasting in June 2006 after being duly registered by Mengal in the United Arab Emirates. He had planned to reach the six million Baloch living in South Asia and the Middle East.
Mengal had announced the station’s launch to more than 3,000 people at a public event in Quetta in February 2006. Knowing he was in danger, he moved to the United Arab Emirates, which was already the station’s main operational base. But on 28 March 2006, he received a call from an official with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), who invited him to come to Karachi to discuss his request for a licence for Baloch Voice.
Many Balochi civilians have been arrested and held incommunicado or summarily executed by the Pakistani security forces at part of their efforts to combat Balochi separatism.