The Islamabad High Court (IHC) raised concerns on Friday about the forced repatriation of Baloch protesters, who had experienced harsh police action the day before, back to their province.

Chief Justice Aamer Farooq heard a petition filed by Baloch protesters against unlawful detention, questioning why they were being “forcefully” sent back to Balochistan.

“They can stay in Islamabad, protest, or go back home. The choice is theirs,” remarked Justice Aamer Farooq

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The police used brutal force on Wednesday night to disperse and detain Baloch demonstrators in Islamabad, who were protesting against enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings in their province.

Over 200 protesters were taken into custody after encountering tear gas, water cannons, and police batons.

The government later claimed that more than 90 per cent of the Baloch men and women in custody had been released, except for men “who could not be identified” by the police.

However, during the IHC hearing on a petition seeking the release of detained Baloch protesters, it was revealed that over 50 Baloch women protesters had gone missing after police took action.

The court instructed representatives of the protesters and their counsel to approach the Islamabad SSP (Investigation) to record their version and sought a report from the police.

Petitioners’ counsel Attaullah Kundi and Imaan Mazari appeared before the court, explaining that the police had informed them that buses were waiting to take protesters back home.

Kundi stated that the police chief had mentioned orders from the prime minister for the repatriation of protesters, and Baloch women were forcefully filled into buses. He further revealed that some Baloch students studying in Islamabad were also coerced into the buses.

The court expressed displeasure and summoned IG Akbar Nasir in response. The police chief claimed to have arranged transport for the protesters, to which the court questioned why they were sent back forcefully. Chief Justice Farooq emphasized that the protesters had the choice to stay in Islamabad, protest, or go home.

When asked how many protesters were in police custody, the IG replied that 216 Baloch men and women were at the Kohsar police station of which some had been sent on judicial remand. Out of these, 19 women were released, he added.

Protesters at the Tarnol police station were released by the local magistrate while 162 detainees were sent on judicial remand, said IG Nasir.

The court also asked about the number of women who were sent home, those released, and the ones staying at the hostel. It also directed the police chief to arrange a meeting of the women with their counsels.

“You have to convince them that not one person is missing,” Justice Farooq emphasised.

Journalist Hamid Mir and Ahmed Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also provided insights during the hearing. Mir highlighted discrepancies in government statements, and Butt emphasized the constitutional right to protest in a democracy.

The court directed the police chief to arrange a meeting between the detained women and their counsels and ensure transparency in the process.

The IHC CJ further expressed displeasure over Wednesday night’s events, regretting the police action on protesters. “What kind of a society are we living in? Even if a common person is being unjust, public officeholders should always be careful,” he remarked.

The court then instructed Kundi to oversee the entire matter and contact the IHC registrar’s office if there was a problem. It further said that all the women staying at the I-10 hostel be released.

“I will issue a detailed order of today’s proceedings,” Justice Farooq said, adding that the next hearing would be conducted by Justice Miangul Hasan Aurangzeb.