Pakistan: My brother was killed for fighting for our rights

This blog is by Wrranga Luni, a Pashtun woman human rights defender from Pakistan, who pays tribute to her brother, Arman, a human rights defender who was killed after a protest in February 2019. At first, the police did not even let Arman’s family file a police complaint. Now, they are still searching for justice.

My brother Arman Luni was never a quiet child. My mother tells me he would move her belongings all around the house, and hide in trees when she asked him about them. He loved soccer, almost as much as his family. He was mischievous, but always full of joy.

He used to call me his brother – because he believed that I could do everything that a man could. He stood up for me to my family. Arman bought me my first computer and helped me learn how to type. He enrolled me in a boys’ school when the closest girls’ school being at least two hours away deterred my family from getting me educated at all.

He was also my best friend.

On 2 February 2019, Arman died after he was beaten up by the police. He was leading a sit-in protest in Loralai in Balochistan, protesting a terrorist attack targeted at the district’s police force that day.  I was told by eyewitnesses that Arman and his friends were on the road when a police car stopped them. According to the eyewitnesses, a senior police officer then called for Arman by name and ordered his subordinates to beat him.

They want to silence us for our defiance

Wrranga Luni

Hitting him with the butts of their guns, Arman fell on the ground. Severely wounded, he was taken to a hospital, where he died.

We had talked about this day. Arman had told me that in the fight for the rights of the Pashtun – God-given and constitutional – we could both be hurt.

We were part of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) after all. Our movement, formerly known as the Mehsud Tahaffuz Movement grew across Pakistan when a Pashtun resident of Karachi, Naqeebullah Mehsud was extrajudicially executed by the city’s police on January 13, 2018.

We have been  demanding an end to enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, discriminatory profiling at checkpoints and for our homeland to be cleared of landmines. We want an end to attacks by armed groups. We want more schools, colleges and healthcare. We want peace. But instead of hearing our concerns, we are smeared as “traitors” and “enemies of the state”. They want to silence us for our defiance.

And so, they could arrest us, if we were lucky. Disappear us, if we aren’t so lucky. And even kill us, if we have no luck at all.

They have done precisely that and more over the last few months. Gulalai Ismail, another fellow female leader of the movement, was “missing” for well over 30 hours. Her family was searching desperately trace of her, going back and forth between this government office and that.

On February 5, dozens of activists were jailed. Another human rights activist, academic and historian from Lahore, Ammar Ali Jan, was arrested from his home at 4:00 am during a raid for participating in a protest against Arman’s killing on February 9. My friend and member of PTM’s core committee, Sanna Ejaz has been banned from leaving the country.

Over the past year, both Arman and I were named in false police cases for participating in peaceful rallies of PTM. I am still on bail in one case. Our comrade Alamzaib Khan, who collected evidence of human rights abuses against Pashtuns, has been imprisoned in Karachi since January 23. His only crime was documenting years of crimes committed against members of his community.

After months of protests, now that the police case for Arman’s killing has been registered, we are campaigning for an independent and credible investigation and the suspected perpetrators to be held accountable. The police cannot be trusted to investigate themselves. The senior police official, Rao Anwar, accused of Naqeebullah Mehsud’s extrajudicial execution continues to elude justice.

Arman was committed to peace in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. He believed that political awareness, activism and organizing masses towards democracy, equity and social justice was the way to achieve it.

We are campaigning for an independent and credible investigation and the suspected perpetrators to be held accountable. The police cannot be trusted to investigate themselves

Wrranga Luni

He envisioned Pakistan as a transparent, democratic federation of Pashtun, Baloch, Sindhis, Siraikis, Punjabis and other ethnic groups – where all the individuals would have their liberty of religion, freedom of expression and face no oppression. He spoke so passionately and patriotically of Pakistan, it was why so many listened to him. Why so many continued to follow him, despite the ever-growing danger of doing so. Why his demands were so simple to understand – that is, to treat us like human beings.

When we were younger, my other brother Muhammad Qasim had started working at a restaurant as a waiter. Arman was no more than 14 years old, and a dedicated, hardworking student of the 7th grade. But he couldn’t let Qasim shoulder his burden alone, so he would insist on taking over his duties during the second half of his shift.

This need to help people defines how Arman lived his brief life. The women he knew are particularly better off for having known him. Other people in our village would constantly tell his wife how lucky she was to have him. His affection for her was endless, and he showed it. This was not behaviour that men typically exhibited towards their wives where we come from.

When the elders of our village told him to stop my involvement in politics – because apparently the honour of my whole tribe lies on my female shoulders – he stood up for me. “I won’t push her down,” he retorted, signalling his progressiveness, his feminism and his staunch commitment to improving the lives of his war-ravaged community. We moved cities when the threats against us got more serious but Arman never asked me to stop. He had all the time in the world for opinions that differed from his own, but none for unwarranted anger and hate.

He had just started his job teaching Pashto literature at a college in Balochistan. I feel terrible for his students for missing out on his wisdom.

My brother Arman died as he lived. His final act was to protect those who stood with him against the rising tide of injustice in Pakistan. An ocean of people came to his funeral, despite the security agencies barring them from entering our city.

On that day, I wished for nothing more than for him to come out of the tree.

As told to Amnesty International