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2 Jan 2023

ADNAN AAMIR, Nikkei Asia

Pakistan: Mass arrests and imposition of emergency law following protests against China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Gwadar has a chilling effect, warns right group

"Pakistan's Belt and Road hub Gwadar hit by protest clampdown"

A de facto curfew has been imposed in Pakistan's port town of Gwadar after a crackdown on a local rights movement, casting a shadow over a key destination for China's Belt and Road infrastructure investment.

Tensions had been rising for weeks as the Haq Do Tehreek (Gwadar Rights Movement) staged sit-ins that obstructed the port. The leader of the movement, Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, even issued an ultimatum for Chinese nationals working in the area to leave.

In the early morning of Dec. 26, police raided the protest camp. Since then, internet services have been suspended in the town -- center stage of the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Pakistani component of the Belt and Road.

The government of the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Gwadar is located, has imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code -- a draconian colonial-era law that enables a ban on all kinds of rallies and protests -- for one month. Police have reportedly arrested over 100 supporters of the movement, including the deputy chief of the rights group.

[...S]upporters of the movement clashed with authorities for at least four days after the crackdown began. One police officer and one protester were purportedly killed. Due to media blackouts coupled with the suspension of internet services, it was not possible to confirm casualty figures.

The Gwadar Rights Movement was established in August 2021 to protest on behalf of the local population, expressing grievances about security checkpoints, deep-sea fish trawling in the area and restrictions on border trade with Iran.

The sit-in began in late October near the main entrance of the Chinese-built and operated port. The movement escalated its confrontation with the government in the third week of December, when Rehman warned Chinese to leave. "The government started the crackdown on protesters after China expressed its displeasure on the situation in Gwadar,"


Rehman claims that the common people of Gwadar have not benefited from the CPEC. He alleges that the Gwadar Eastbay Expressway [...] is meant to benefit the elite of the country. He vowed that his protest movement will continue. [...] On Dec. 10, thousands of women had rallied in Gwadar to show solidarity with Rehman.

The global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, expressed alarm over the reports of mass arrests and the imposition of the emergency law in Gwadar. "Putting a blanket ban on all forms of public gatherings amounts to repression of the right to protest and sends a chilling message that there is no room for dissent," the organization said in a tweet.

Experts said that the civil disturbance and ongoing political tensions have damaged the image of Gwadar as an investment destination. [...]