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Pakistani journalists condemn government over arrest of scribe in Gwadar

Massive security for the Gwadar port (Photo: Twitter)

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has criticised the government for arresting senior journalist Obaidullah for reporting on the Gwadar protests. The Balochistan government arrested the journalist last week after clashes broke out between the police and protesters, who were staging a sit-in over denial of basic rights due to massive Chinese presence.

In a tweet on Monday, Afzal Butt, president of the Islamabad-based PFUJ said: “Coverage of the public protest in Gwadar has become a crime.” The Secretary General of PFUJ, Arshad Ansari also condemned the arrest of Obaidullah and demanded his release.

Besides the crackdown on the protesters, the police had arrested Obaidullah along with his three sons who were later released. Reportedly, the journalist is still under custody.

The Pakistani port city of Gwadar, which lies on the Makran coast close to Iran, is being developed by China as part of its global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to access the Arabian Sea for trade and energy. However, the local Baloch community is resisting the construction of the port as Pakistan has curtailed their freedom of movement by setting up numerous security checkpoints to provide security to the Chinese engineers and workers.

The Baloch, a fishing community, also complain that the construction of the port by China has blocked their access to the Arabian Sea for fishing which is their mainstay. They have also demanded that the Pakistani government bans Chinese deep-sea trawlers that scoop out the fish leaving little for the local fishermen.

The Baloch masses have been protesting since the last one-and-a-half months over these issues. Other demands of the people include clean drinking water, mending broken roads and opening up the border with Iran, which lies to the south-west, for local trade with Baloch on the other side.

Some of these demands are not conducive to the Pakistani foreign policy which seeks to maintain close relations with all-weather ally China.

The protests have been spearheaded by the Gwadar Rights Movement (Haq Do Tehreek) leader, Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, who has even warned Chinese nationals to leave the port city. They blocked the entrance to the port as well as the expressway leading out of gwadar city.

In the crackdown on the protesters, the Balochistan government has banned public gatherings under Section-144, clamped down on internet services and transported the arrested people to other districts of the province.

Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, remains under a media blackout due to the war-like situation in the region. The Baloch have been seeking independence from Pakistan and look upon China as an exploitative country that is seen as supporting Pakistan against the Baloch nationalists, therefore, their ire against the two close friends.