The Swiss ambassador in Islamabad was this week summoned by Pakistani authorities, who demanded that a series of Geneva-based posters to “Free Balochistan” be removed.
The summons came in the wake of a publicity campaign recently run in Geneva. Large posters were erected in the city, including on the side of buses, by an organisation demanding freedom for the separatist Balochistan region of south-west Pakistan.
Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Tilman Renz told swissinfo.ch that a meeting took place between the Swiss representative and the Pakistani foreign ministry to discuss the issue on Monday 18 September in Islamabad, thereby confirming the original story that appeared on Swiss public radio, RTS.
The outcome of the talks was unspecified, but there is no indication that the authorities have explicitly moved to take down the posters.
“In principle, the hanging of public posters is protected by the constitutional right to freedom of expression,” Renz said. “Swiss law permits the authorities to intervene in such cases only in the event of an illegal act or when a complaint has been lodged.”
Brahumdagh Bugti, the Geneva-based president of the Baloch Republican Party said that it was a bad move by the Pakistan authorities.
"They wanted to apply pressure and bully the West but it backfired. It highlighted the Balochistan issue in the media when the authorities do not want it to come out in the open," he told swissinfo.ch
According to him, more than 80% of the people in Balochistan do not want to be a part of Pakistan.
Several similar cases involving posters depicting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan were reported in Switzerland in recent years.
The current campaign was spearheaded by the Balochistan House group, which describes itself as a think-tank. According to RTS, the Pakistani authorities have said that this group is affiliated with the Balochistan Liberation Front, which they designate as a terrorist organisation.
The foreign ministry said it has not been in contact with Balochistan House.
According to Dawnexternal link, a Pakistani newspaper, the country’s representative to the UN said that the posters are “a flagrant attack against the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Pakistan”, and that a letter asking for their removal was sent on September 6.
Balochistan is the largest region in Pakistan, and despite its sparse population (5% of the country) it has always been a strategic location, bordering Iran and Afghanistan. Rebel groups have been in conflict with the government and army since 1948, demanding greater autonomy, a larger share of natural resource revenue, and complete independence.
Current violence, considered the fifth such insurgency, dates to 2004, and has seen accusations of large-scale abductions and killings of Baloch activists. A 2012external link report by a UN working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances in Pakistan stated that “in Balochistan alone, some sources alleged that more than 14,000 people are still missing, while the provincial Government recognises less than 100”.