Only immediate family members of 37-year-old Karima Baloch were allowed to attend her funeral on Sunday in the village of Tump in Balochistan.
A Pakistani dissident and civil rights activist, Karima Baloch, who died in exile in Canada last month was returned to Pakistan and laid to rest in her home village in southwestern Balochistan province under tight security, activists have said.
Her supporters claim that Pakistani troops had sealed off the village and prevented them from attending her burial. Her remains were brought to Pakistan from Canada earlier on Sunday.
Baloch’s body was found December 22 near Toronto’s downtown waterfront, a place that she liked and often visited, a day after she was reported missing.
Toronto police have not treated her death as suspicious though there were allegations by her supporters that she was killed.
A fierce critic of Pakistani spy agencies that are often accused of abducting activists in Balochistan and elsewhere in Pakistan, Baloch was granted asylum in Canada in 2016. Her death has raised suspicions among rights activists, who on Monday denounced authorities for holding the funeral in near secrecy.
“It is appalling to see how Karima Baloch’s dead body was treated," said Mohsin Dawar, a lawmaker from Pakistan's former tribal regions who campaigns for Pashtun minority rights but like Baloch, has also criticised Pakistani spy agencies.
“It is not difficult to understand how this will deepen the divide and fuel separatism," he tweeted. "Is this the strategy to deal with the Baloch insurgency, to sprinkle salt on the wounds of Baloch?"
Deceased Baloch leader #KarimaBaloch was laid to rest on Monday in Tump, her hometown. The town continued to be under siege of the security forces for the 2nd day & only close relatives were allowed to attend the burial service.#JusticeForKarimaBaloch— Fazila Baloch🌺☀️ (@IFazilaBaloch) January 25, 2021
Call for demonstration
There was no immediate comment from the government, but a video that surfaced on social media shows soldiers turning back several mourners who are heard in the footage saying they wanted to pay their last respects to Baloch.
Angered over the situation, a Baloch nationalist group, the Baloch Solidarity Committee, issued a call for a daylong strike and complete shutdown in Balochistan on Monday.
Its statement said Pakistani troops spirited Baloch's coffin away on its arrival from Canada and foiled a move by her supporters to hold her funeral in Karachi, instead taking her remains to her home village.
Later on Sunday, hundreds of Baloch activists rallied in Karachi, denouncing the government for not allowing that Baloch's funeral be held in the city.
They chanted anti-government slogans and demanded justice for Baloch, who they say was a “voice of the Baloch people” that was “silenced.” The activists insisted she did not die a natural death though they offered no evidence to support their allegation.
Karima Mehrab, who was also known as Karima Baloch, had escaped to Canada in 2015 after the Pakistani government accused her of terrorism, according to CBC.
Amnesty International described her death as "deeply shocking" and called on police to conduct a full investigation.
"The perpetrators must be brought to justice without recourse to the death penalty," the rights group said on Twitter.
Mehrab had defended human rights in Pakistan and campaigned for autonomy for Balochistan, a province in the southwest of the country that has been plagued by sectarian violence.
In May, the body of a Sajid Hussain, a journalist from Baluchistan who had been living in exile in Sweden after fleeing Pakistan, was found in a river near the city of Uppsala.
Hussain had written about drug trafficking, forced disappearances and a long-running insurgency before seeking refuge in Sweden in 2017.
Police said it was difficult to tell from the autopsy if his death had been the result of a crime, an accident or suicide.
Balochistan has for years been the scene of a low-level insurgency by small separatist groups and nationalists who complain of discrimination and demand a fairer share of their province’s resources and wealth.
Although there are also militant groups in Balochistan that stage attacks on soldiers, separatists also often attack troops in the province, prompting authorities to detain suspects. Human rights activists often blame security forces of illegally holding people.
Such detainees are usually not charged and do not appear in court, which draws protests from their families and rights activists.