“I am a firm believer and my faith has been my strength all the way. I believe in one thing for sure: that Masood is going to come back to me”
On 3th July 2005 Amina Masood Janjua’s world became a living nightmare on receiving the devastating news that the name of her husband Masood Janjua, a well-known educator and businessman of Rawalpind and Islamabad had been added to a long and ever growing list of Pakistan’s “disappeared”. Masood (then age 44) vanished from sight alongside his friend 25 year old Faisal Faraz, an engineer from Lahore while travelling together on a bus from Rawalpindi to Peshawar.
It is believed that the two men are in secret detention at the request of the CIA. Amnesty International reports that hundreds, possibly thousands, of people became victims of enforced disappearance after Pakistan joined the US-led war on terror in 2001. Cases were being investigated initially by the Supreme Court and then later transferred to a Judicial Commission, authorities however have been reluctant to examine the role of the intelligence services in “enforced disappearances” or hold anyone to account.
For years the security services denied any involvement in these disappearances, however it was reported this week in DAWN that the Attorney General of Pakistan recently informed the Supreme Court that over 500 persons reported to be ‘missing’ were in the custody of security agencies.
In an interview with Moazzam Begg, Director of Outreach at human rights organization, CagePrisoners, Amina recounts her distress on learning that Masood was one of those missing:-
I remember the time of Masood’s disappearance with a shudder, recalling how I was helplessly lying in bed for three months crying in a deep shock and depression. All the while my innocent children Muhammad (14), Ali (12) and Aishah (8) were sunk in a sea of shock, lost in a world of their own, their eyes desperately searching for Abbu (father) and Ammi (mother) both.
I pulled myself together with a determination never to give up and to bring my loved one home — to bring back the same old golden days of our union, when life was joy and fun and nothing else mattered. For the comfort of my children, I stretched over myself a confident smile. “I will bring your Abbu to you,” I promised to them
In 2006 Amina began spearheading demonstrations in front of Parliament House to wake up the government of Pervez Musharaff (believed to be involved in many of the missing person’s cases). Fearless and determined she set the ball rolling for a long succession of street demonstrations, rallies, day/night sit-ins and months’ long protest camps across the country, along with seminars and awareness campaigns
In an article on Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan’s disappeared, The Real News reported the following:-
Pervez Musharraf admits in his biography that he handed over hundreds of suspects, including many Pakistani citizens, without charge or trial, to the U.S. for bounties totalling millions of dollars. The campaign later included domestic political dissidents, human rights organizers, journalists, or those who simply appeared suspect. Some have ended up renditioned to U.S. secret prisons around the world. Others are assumed held by Pakistani agencies, for years without charge, trial, or any contact with the outside world
Amina has been successful in getting over 600 people released but also learnt of a dark world where people were tortured and men who were abducted later turned up dead. One such case was that of investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad who disappeared after writing on drones and a militant attack on Mehran Navy base. Saleem spoke to persons within the armed forces and highlighted divisions and anger over the government’s failure to stop drone attacks that were killing many civilians not involved in terrorist activity.
One of Saleem’s allegations based on his interviews was that some within the military were “actively” recruiting insurgent sympathisers into the services… Soon after writing on Mehran, the author was kidnapped on his way to a television studio and later found dead. His body revealed signs of torture. Saleem’s last interview can be seen on the following link… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmTM6gyHxbo
In 2012 the Supreme Court took action on some cases ordering that named persons must be charged or released. Amnesty reported that seven men were brought before the Supreme Court in Islamabad looking severely emaciated, some with urine bags protruding from their trousers. After the brief appearance in court they were taken away and remain missing”. Catherine Baber, Deputy-Director for the Asia-Pacific at Amnesty International had this to say, “if court orders can bring these disappeared people to light in a matter of days or weeks, the question remains – how many more are being held in intolerable conditions in secret detention centres across Pakistan?”
Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has now set up a Federal Task Force (FTC) to resolve the issue of missing persons. The first meeting was held on 29th July at the Ministry of Interior. Officials from Defence and Law ministries, provincial home ministries and police departments, intelligence agencies, FATA additional chief secretary and the ICT chief commissioner were invited to attend. A hearing was previously held in the Supreme Court on July 23, 2013 during which the court directed that the government policy on “missing persons” should be submitted to the court. The date of the next hearing is August 2nd http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/islamabad/26-Jul-2013/ftf-on-missing-persons-set-to-be-active
Amina, not easily intimidated, set up a network of victim’s families several years ago who call themselves “Defence of Human Rights”. Her energies are also channelled into mentoring others and providing counselling for those in a similar situation to herself. There is however a history of intimidation against victims with some too afraid to even launch a report. The financial cost to families can also be high losing a breadwinner and having to campaign and fund legal and educational initiatives. There are times when Amina’s bank account is running on empty.
Amina describes the enormous effort undertaken to highlight and locate those that are gone which she shared with the International News and I stating :-
A complete book can be written on the pain and the courage it took to reach here. I am proud and honoured to share that at the moment I am fighting 749 cases of the ‘disappeared’ by the special permission of the Supreme Court as a lawyer – although I am not a qualified lawyer.
As the number of the disappeared grows, so does my passion and determination to put an end to this torture of making innocent citizens go ‘missing’ and keeping them in secret detentions. This issue has gone a long way in scarring our land and its people. It is a needless compromise of our national honour and integrity and a bloody sacrifice given in the name of the so-called war on terror.
I asked Amina for more information about Defence of Human Rights. She sent me the following from her publication, An Outcry :-
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
To bring back all the enforced disappeared safely back to their homes
Advocacy to make policies and laws which will stop the phenomenon of enforced disappearances once and for all
To bring positive change in foreign policies pertaining to superpowers of the world
Advocacy to sign and ratify U.N’s convention against Enforced Disappearances
To ensure fundamental rights of all human being as declared in Universal Declaration of Human Rights; irrespective of their caste, creed, colour, race, nationality or religion
Bring peace and justice to the world through consistent peaceful struggle
ROLE OF DHR
DHR submits each case of disappearance in Supreme Court as well as in commission of inquiry for missing person which takes an average of ten to twenty days for each case
Amina Masood as Chairperson has not missed a single haring of missing person case in Supreme Court in the last eight years, which is a record. Whereas adjournment due to absence of judges and lawyers is a common occurance
DHR does not charge a single penny for its service, instead it provides travelling and staying expenses to poor families that come for court hearings.
With the help of supporters DHR has provided monetary support to up to 200 families so far
DHR highlights an impressive list of achievements working on issues at home and abroad and has also campaigned to release prisoners from Bagram and Guantanamo and on drones to name but two. There was also a successful Missing Person’s Camp in 2012 where demonstrators camped out outside Parliament House in Islamabad for two and half months. This proved to be a milestone in the struggle of missing persons.
Despite the long struggle and her difficult existence as a “half-widow” Amina is more determined than ever. In a conversation with Pakistani blogger Sana Saleem she spoke of the need for help from all factions of society, lawyers, NGO’s, writers, human right activists, youth anyone that can assist her cause. The committed activist is appreciative of any help she receives stating on social media yesterday, “I want to thank all those who have been a real source of support and comfort, who stood by me in rain and sunshine and fought along with me for Masood Janjua, all these 8 long dark years.” If anyone can bring a missing person back home in Pakistan it will surely be Amina!
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.