Asylum: the protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee.
Sadly, sometimes we cannot be protected even by escaping political turmoil in our home country. Such was the case for Karima Mehrab Baloch, a Pakistani human rights activist. She was born and raised in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. After attending her first protest in 2005, Karima became deeply immersed in in activism and was increasingly popular on social media. In 2015, she became the first female to head the Baloch Students Organization (BSO), an activist group which was banned. Terrorism charges were filed against her after she attained her leadership position in BSO and she was forced into exile. She was granted asylum in Toronto, Canada and continued her work as an activist, both in Canada and in Europe. Karima went on to marry a fellow activist, Hamal Baloch.
In 2016, she was honored by being named one of BBC’s “100 Inspirational and Influential Women.” In an interview with BBC, she made it clear that she knew of the dangers her role in activism put her in. Her previous successor for BSO had been abducted, and many of her own activist relatives had disappeared only to turn up dead.
She received multiple threatening phone calls, people telling her to stop her activism, detailing accounts of her day to let her know she was being followed, and death threats. Fellow activist and friend, Lateef Johar Baloch, told BBC that Karima had most recently received threats saying that she would get a “Christmas gift” and that someone would “teach her a lesson.” None of it deterred her from her course. She was a voice of a nation and as her family says, “a mountain of courage.” She once stood in front of a Pakistani judge and refused to be punished with leniency based on her gender, but insisted on being given a punishment based on equality.
She was a voice of a nation and as her family says, “a mountain of courage.” She once stood in front of a Pakistani judge and refused to be punished with leniency based on her gender, but insisted on being given a punishment based on equality.
On Sunday, December 20, Karima left her home for a walk and never returned. Her family contacted the police, and on Monday, her body was found near Lake Ontario. No further details were given by the police except to say that they did not believe there was any suspicious activity.
“The Toronto Police Service is aware of heightened community and media interest surrounding a missing person investigation,” Toronto police said in a statement. “The circumstances have been investigated and officers have determined this to be a non-criminal death and no foul play is suspected.”
Karima’s death has sparked an outrage in Balochistan and people have taken to the streets for rallies. She was taken much too soon, but she has inspired people to continue the good work she had been doing. She was not only a leader for political movements, but for gender equality as well. Her death must not be in vain, and the people in Balochistan will make sure of this.
Mariam is a stay at home mom, boutique owner, and writer.