“I was born and raised in Pakistan-occupied Jammu & Kashmir. I was a member of the Jammu & Kashmir National Students Federation (JKNSF), a revolutionary, socialist organisation struggling for the freedom of so-called 'Azad' Kashmir and for the basic rights of its citizens. The organisation raises its voice against religious extremism and promotes peaceful political struggle, and that’s where my story starts”.
Aamir (name changed), in fact, is now living in Switzerland as a political refugee. He was left with no option but to flee in order to escape death, after being abducted, arrested, and tortured.
"Since 1996, I've worked to expose religious extremists and their Stone Age policies. PoK is a playground for State-sponsored religious extremist groups where they recruit teenagers to wage Islamic jihad against Indian forces. They brainwash them, give them basic training, and then send those teenagers to their deaths in Indian Kashmir, in the name of God. Each death of a teenager benefits the extremist groups. They compensate the families, so each death motivates others and increases fund raising," Aamir recounted.
Has the same scheme been successfully applied all over Pakistan? A scheme that led to the inclusion of the country into the Child Soldier Recruit List, a few days ago.
How Aamir Courted Trouble With Extremist Groups & Pak Intelligence
Aamir and the JKNSF were trying to counter the extremist narrative, personally and via social media. And that’s where the problems started.
“Suddenly, we found out that religious extremists and their sympathisers from all over Pakistan and Azad Kashmir had initiated a pre-planned propaganda against us on social media. They claimed that we were anti-religious and spreading hate among people, and I was accused of blasphemy.
Why? On September 9, 2016 the Jamaat-ud-Dawa reported that somebody had placed some pamphlet containing anti-Islamic material inside their mosques. JuD and other religious parties started a campaign against me accusing me of blasphemy”.
It might be worth noting that, while all this was happening in PoK, Aamir had gotten a job in Saudi Arabia and was living there.
“When I was back in Pakistan, I had no idea what was happening, had no idea they were trying to portray me as a group leader and wanted to make an example out of me”.
An example of what can happen to you in the land of 'azadi' if you raise your voice against the State or any terrorist group.
Accused of Blasphemy, Victim of Negative Campaign
To cut a long story short, JuD goons filed an FIR against Aamir, accusing him of blasphemy. He was arrested, and they immediately started a negative campaign against him, distributing leaflets in the city and via social media, asking that he be hanged immediately or that they would murder him.
Soon, the situation spiralled out of control.
“These people went to colleges, universities and madrassas in order to incite hate among youth against me through demonstrations and rallies. Some progressive parties (JKPNP, JKNSF, JKLF, UKPNP, JKNAP) in Kashmir tried to hold a program in my favour. They were attacked by armed members of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), and heavy police squads had to intervene to prevent blood loss," he said.
While Aamir was arrested, the same was not reported for five days - five days during which he was tortured, mentally and physically, by police and intelligence agencies.
Then, oddly enough, he was sent to the anti-terrorism court in Muzaffarabad where he applied for bail and where he spent two months in custody without any lawyer coming forward to defend him.
“I was arrested for blasphemy and they (lawyers) feared they might be booked too, under the same Blasphemy Act, just for defending me”.
A Miraculous Escape to Switzerland
In the end, after two months, Aamir found a brave lawyer and was released on bail because there was not enough evidence to convict him. But it was not the end; the police made it clear to his family that he had to leave the country, otherwise they’d be forced to arrest him repeatedly because JuD and JeM, along with extremists elements in the FIA, were threatening to kill him anyway.
“For 15 days, I went underground in order to safeguard my life. During this time, my visa was arranged and on 2 February, 2017, I fled from Islamabad to the UAE and after over a year, I reached Switzerland,” he said.
Aamir, despite his ordeal, is amongst the lucky ones. He is safe and sound and can raise his voice for those who aren't as lucky.
On 15 March, 2019, 30 members of the Jammu Kashmir National Students Federation were arbitrarily detained by Pakistani law enforcement agencies for protesting at the Rawalpindi Press Club, demanding Kashmir’s independence from Pakistan.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there is “credible information” of enforced disappearances of people from POK, “including those who were held in secret detention and those whose fate and whereabouts continue to remain unknown”.
The statement added: “In almost all cases, representatives of the alleged victims claim that Pakistani intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearances. There are fears that people subjected to enforced disappearances may have been detained in any of the military-run internment centres in Pakistan”.
“Pakistan is a country that suppresses the basic freedoms of its own citizens. In 'Azad' Kashmir, we do not have any freedom: no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, no freedom of conscience”.
The only freedom left, is the freedom to die for jihad, or run away.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets at @francescam63. This is a testimony based article, and the protagonist wishes to remain anonymous. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)