Mama Qadeer at a protest in front of Karachi Press Club in 2013
Mama Qadeer at a protest in front of Karachi Press Club in 2013

Veteran Baloch rights activist Abdul Qadeer Baloch, popularly known as Mama Qadeer, has vowed to take legal action in response to a government restriction preventing him from leaving Pakistan.

Qadeer, 72, is the vice-chairman of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) human rights group and was attempting to travel from Karachi on Wednesday night to attend the World Sindhi Congress in New York. He was prevented from boarding his flight after checking in at Jinnah International Airport. Qadeer told PakVoices over the phone that officials from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) informed him that his name was on the Exit Control List (ECL).

Qadeer was travelling with fellow activists Farzana Majeed and Faiqa. He said the FIA officials told him he was restricted from travelling abroad because there was an unspecified criminal complaint pending against him and accused him of being an “anti-state element”.

“They treated us as if we were their worst enemies”, Qadeer said. “Are we not citizens of Pakistan? Then where are our constitutional rights?”

Qadeer said he had not been informed earlier about the addition of his name to the ECL by the Ministry of Interior. PakVoices attempted to contact the Interior Ministry’s spokesperson but was unable to get an official response.

Qadeer said he will consult with a lawyer before taking legal action to find out the specific reason for the travel restriction placed on him.

“I have every right to know why this happened to me. There should at least be an explanation,” he said.

Qadeer is also planning on holding a press conference about the issue at the Karachi Press Club later today.  The ECL was created in 1981 during the martial law rule of General Zia ul Haq and has been criticized for being arbitrarily used by the government to curb the movements of politicians and activists.

Mama Qadeer is one of the most prominent Baloch rights activists in Pakistan. In October 2013 he led a 2000 km protest march on foot from Karachi to Islamabad to highlight the issue of enforced disappearances of Baloch nationalist activists.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, 300 people have been abducted and killed in Balochistan between Jan 2011 and May 2012, many of them associated with Baloch nationalist groups. Qadeer’s organization VBMP claims that more than 21,000 people have gone missing in the province since 2005.

An insurgency has also been ongoing in Balochistan, having started in 2004 and pitting armed Baloch separatists against Pakistan’s military.