Pakistani Human Rights Activist Found Dead In Toronto; Family Suspects Foul Play

On December 20th, Karima Mehrab, also known as Karima Baloch, went on a walk and never came back. After her family reported her missing, Baloch was found dead near Lake Ontario. Police believe she committed suicide with no foul play involved, but Baloch’s family believe that her death should be investigated, especially considering her history of activism and the recent threats she had received.

In 2006, when Baloch lived in Pakistan, she joined the Baloch Student Organization (B.S.O.), a group fighting for the rights and liberation of Baloch people, which a few of her family members participated in. Baloch fought for women’s rights and participated in rallies to urge officials to properly investigate missing people from Balochistan, one of Pakistan’s four provinces. After the B.S.O. was banned as a terrorist organization, Baloch became the organization’s new chair in 2015 when the previous chairman became the latest B.S.O. member to be abducted. (Many B.S.O. members have been abducted and killed.) Baloch was charged with terrorism soon after her promotion and chose to leave Pakistan, continuing her advocacy in Toronto, Canada. In 2016, Baloch was named as an inspirational and influential woman of the year in a list from the B.B.C.

Baloch’s death is not an isolated incident. In March 2020, Sajid Hussain, a journalist who spoke on human rights violations and disappearances in Balochistan, went missing, and, after a lengthy investigation, was found dead in a river in Sweden. Hussain had also left Pakistan due to death threats and was a friend of Baloch’s brother. As in Baloch’s case, Swedish police ruled out foul play.

Baloch’s friend and fellow activist, Lateef Johar Baloch, told B.B.C. News that Karima Baloch had received recent death threats. Her husband, Hammal Baloch, another former member of the B.S.O., said that “her house [in Balochistan] had once been a target of a mortar attack, and … repeated raids were conducted there for her arrest” while she was a part of the B.S.O.

Her family has told police that Baloch struggled with depression for most of her life. Whether her death was indeed a suicide, as police claim, or something more sinister, her life speaks volumes about how difficult advocacy is in Pakistan. Pakistan is a nation created to give freedom and safety to the oppressed, yet it continues to oppress and punish those within its own borders. The country must make significant systemic and cultural change for it to progress and serve its people appropriately.