Pakistan: Death of professor and actvist Arman Loni
February 11, 2019, 8:27 am

Loni died on February 2 after baton charge by the police to disperse protesters of PTM while holding a peaceful protest against the terrorist attacks on security forces in Loralai in country’s Balochistan province.

Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL that a police officer struck the college teacher on the neck with a gun after stopping him as he returned from a sit-in protest in the Loralai district of Balochistan on February 2.

Yet the police claim that a postmortem revealed no signs of injury. Balochistan’s interior minister told RFE/RL that an “initial investigation suggests Arman Luni died of a cardiac arrest.”

Loni was a leader in the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM), which has been holding rallies across Pakistan since the beginning of 2018 to protest against what it says are human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings by security forces in the tribal regions.

Mohsin Dawar, a lawmaker and a PTM founding member, said that the police singled Loni out and deliberately beat him to death because of his “association with PTM.”

“It was a targeted attack on him by police,” he told the Reuters news agency.

Context is key. Against a backdrop in which several high-profile extrajudicial killings have cast a sustained spotlight on excessive force by state authorities, the risk of tensions spiralling out of control is high. Monday’s strike in several areas across Balochistan — with its widespread support from political parties across ethnic lines and sections of society including traders and lawyers — is indicative of Loni’s popular standing in civil society as well as how widespread the public disaffection is. The provincial chief minister took notice of Loni’s death the very next day, perhaps in recognition of these delicate sociopolitical implications.

Concurrently, in the wake of a brutal attack on the DIG police complex in Loralai last week, vigilance on the part of law enforcement and the provincial government is understandably necessary.

However, in question here is not only the issue of whether or not Arman Loni was indeed a victim of police brutality, but the very nature of ‘vigilance’ being distorted by public servants to evade accountability and justify curtailing people’s rights. Paranoid, overreaching measures taken in the interest of ‘maintaining public order’ are counterproductive. Thus, statements by the provincial home minister seeking to blame those who contest the official version of events (as it currently stands) while in the same breath promising a fair investigation will hardly serve to dispel such perceptions.

Loni’s death demands an unbiased and transparent probe. But it also requires that the provincial and federal governments be responsive to the public’s mood and work to de-escalate a potentially volatile situation.