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National

February 13, 2009

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Freed Baloch activist lauds British justice

LONDON: Two Balochistan human rights activists were celebrating on Wednesday after being acquitted of terrorism charges by a court here.

Woolwich Crown Court in London on Wednesday evening acquitted Hyrbyair Marri, the former Balochistan MP and government minister, on three of five charges and Faiz Baloch, a human rights campaigner and journalist, on all charges.Nawab Khair Bux Marri’s son and Baloch were charged by the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in December 2007 on charges related to incitement of terrorism offences in Pakistan.

The prosecution accused the defendants on five charges, which included possession of papers allegedly containing a ‘hit list’ with names of senior civil and military and politicians; collecting information useful for terrorism purposes including CDs carrying still pictures of human rights violation in Balochistan; possessing information useful for preparing acts of guerrilla warfare and strategy; acts preparatory to the commission of terrorist offences which purportedly involved searching internet for weapons and information on arms manuals; and inciting people to commit violence against the state, which included the reported wesbite statements.

The jury failed to reach agreement on count 2 and count 5 of terrorism charges related to the son of veteran politician Nawab Khair Bux Marri. The arrest and start of the prosecution kicked off a storm here and in Pakistan after it was reported in The Guardian that the British and Pakistani government had discussed the swap of wanted men: Pakistan wanted Britain to extradite a list of Baloch activists alleged to be behind a low-level insurgency in the resource-rich province of Balochistan in return for Rashid Rauf, the Pakistani origin British man from Birmingham wanted in Britain in connection with an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners in the summer of 2006, who was recently killed in a drone attack by the US in the tribal areas.

Following the

victory of Pakistan People’s Party in last year’s election, the democratic government decided to start a reconciliation process with the political parties in Balochistan and dropped charges against many.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik in late 2008 announced that the terror charges against Marri in Pakistan had been dropped, suggesting that the case against him was flawed and had been politically orchestrated by the Musharraf regime.

A letter followed Malik’s announcement from Pakistan’s high commissioner to the UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan in which the envoy formally told the court here that Pakistan did not want to pursue the case any more.

Speaking to The News, Faiz Baloch said the jury’s verdict vindicated his position that he was never involved in acts of terrorism.“This is a great victory for British justice and for the people of Balochistan. The jury decided we were innocent, lawful human rights campaigners and that the government and police case against us was flawed.

“This prosecution arose out of the British government’s appeasement of the dictator General Musharraf, in order to win his cooperation in the war on terror. “Our acquittal brings to a close a 15-month nightmare. I spent eight months on remand in Belmarsh prison for a crime I did not commit.” Renowned human rights campaigner and senior Green Party activist Peter Tatchell, who stood bail for Faiz Baloch and campaigned for the release of the two, said that Marri and Baloch were framed by the Musharraf dictatorship to silence their campaigning.

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