The billboards raising awareness about human rights abuses by the Pakistan government will be seen during New Year celebrations at Times Square.
About half a dozen large billboards — hash-tagged #FreeBalochistan — have come up around the iconic Times Square in New York City, drawing attention to rampant human rights abuses by the Pakistan government in its restive southwestern province.
Similar billboards and signs mounted on trucks and about 100 taxis have been driven around New York, especially in front of the consulates of Pakistan and China, said the World Baloch Organisation (WBO), which is behind the campaign that began on December 20.
The slogans include “#FreeBalochistan from human rights abuses” and “Raise your voice against human rights abuses in #Balochistan by Pakistan Army”.
Referring to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that goes up to Gwadar port in Balochistan, one of the signs read, “No to CPEC, the China-Pakistan project that aims to loot and plunder Balochistan.”
The signs will stay up through the New Year’s Eve celebrations, when around a million revelers pack Times Square and adjoining areas for the ball-drop that is aired live around the world, taking the campaign to a new high after a feisty debut in London, where the Pakistan government resorted to several steps to stop it.
“Our aim is to reach out to the American public and make them aware of the worsening situation in Balochistan, which has long been ignored by the international community mainly due to Pakistan’s desperate efforts to stop the truth from reaching the international community,” Mir Javed Mengal of the WBO said in a statement on Thursday.
“Through media reportage of the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebrations, we hope to get our human rights message across to the American people and the rest of the civilised world,” he added.
There have been widespread allegations of torture, killings and enforced disappearances in Balochistan by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies.
“Balochistan was annexed by Pakistan against the people’s will in 1948 and has been under military occupation ever since, with mass kidnappings, torture and executions by the Pakistan Army. Pakistan wants to keep this hidden. We are doing this campaign to expose these abuses,” said Bhawal Mengal, spokesperson for the WBO.
Watch: Video on World Baloch Organisation’s campaign in New York
In its 2017 annual report on the state of human rights around the world, the US state department said more than 20,000 people are allegedly missing since 2000, according to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, which has maintained an online database.
“It listed a total of 739 individuals missing since 1969, including 100 individuals who allegedly were abducted during the year,” the report added, citing the Balochistan body, which describes itself as a non-violent and democratic organisation dedicated to defending the Baloch people and promoting their right to self-determination.
The World Baloch Organisation started its campaign of mounting billboards in London and ran it for a month, overcoming the Pakistan high commission’s lobbying efforts with British lawmakers and government bodies.
Baloch groups also organised a similar campaign in Switzerland that angered the Pakistan government.