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April 20, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Madam Secretary,

Norway is a summer shy of an anniversary. In August 2009 Norwegian citizen Ehsan Arjemandi, my friend Mohammad Moosa Arjemandi’s younger brother, was plucked from a bus en route to Karachi and disappeared into Pakistan's 1970s Argentine-style security system. Witnesses on the bus from which he was removed have described his abduction to local police. A FIR (first information report) has been filed. A well-known Pakistani lawyer was retained. The Norwegian government has asked questions. The answers: Ehsan is held in Quetta. He is in military custody in Malir Cantonment, Karachi. He has been extradited to Iran. Only rumors are forthcoming, leaving Ehsan's family and friends trapped like players in a game of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” Given Ehsan's medical condition, perhaps he is by now dead. In any case, Ehsan can only be in one of these places. Some people in Pakistan do know where Ehsan is--and they are not telling.

Those of us desperately seeking information regarding Ehsan's whereabouts and well-being wonder this: How is it that Pakistan--key Western ally, recipient of billions of dollars in aid, both military and domestic--can turn a blind eye to the abduction of a European citizen by its intelligence or security agencies and not have to answer for it? Friends of Ehsan have sought help from Norwegian officials, American officials, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch--from anyone they could possibly fax or email. Yet the only organization, to my knowledge, that has actively and publicly worked on Ehsan's behalf is the Asian Human Rights Commission. We understand why it is difficult for human rights groups to act--Pakistan threatens them with expulsion and they are often forced to weigh the benefit of helping a minority vs. greater numbers of people, but what trump card does Pakistan hold that prevents the Norwegian and U.S. governments from asking a simple question and demanding an honest answer? Does Norwegian and American taxpayer money buy only support for its War on Terror?

My last question is rhetorical. I know this is not the case. In 2006 an acquaintance of mine fell ill while mountain climbing in the Himalayas. My cold call to the American embassy in Pakistan resulted in the full engagement of one of its officers. The family of the American climber was prepared to spend a considerable sum of money for a private Pakistani helicopter rescue, but this American official met with an officer in the Pakistani military who arranged a risky rescue by the military--gratis. Americans might not be able to move mountains, but they can engage people to help conquer seemingly insurmountable odds in fearsome mountains. Similarly, when Norwegian citizen and journalist Paal Refsdal was abducted in Afghanistan in late 2009, Norwegian officials worked with Afghan contacts to free Mr. Refsdal within one week’s time.

So why has it proved impossible to elicit information about Ehsan’s wherabouts? Is there less concern about his welfare because he is of Baloch ethnicity? Or is it simply that Ehsan’s case, aside from his citizenship status, is not unique in Pakistan where citizens of Balochistan province are routinely disappeared by various Pakistani security agencies? Some are abducted due to their association with an insurgency described by Ahmed Rashid in an April 16, 2010 interview with Majalla Magazine as “a reflection of the complete deprivation and the lack of resources and development that the Baloch have suffered at the hands of the centre.” Others are disappeared because of political activities or unsubstantiated accusations. All such abductions are documented by a steady drumbeat of faxes and emails and facebook causes directed to all the human rights groups listed above. Some of the abductees turn up dead. Some are dumped at the sides of roads and some live to tell the tale. While many of the missing are known to me via a six degrees of separation chain, three are not. They include Ehsan, described above, Prince Musa Ahmadzai and Mahboob Wadhela Baloch.

My friends and I interviewed Prince Musa in 2006. He was subsequently arrested during a political march and held for months without charges or trial. He is one of the lucky ones. His family discovered where he was held and months later were able to secure his release when he fell seriously ill. Most recently, on April 2, 2010, my friend's cousin, Mahboob Wadhela Baloch, a fisheries department employee, was abducted from a passenger van while on his way to join a new post as fishery inspector in Gwadar. Mahboob Wadhela is not an active political party member, nor is he a militant. Like Ehsan, Mahboob Wadhela has not been heard from since.

Ehsan’s family, prior to his abduction, had already suffered enormously. Ehsan, his mother and elder brother, Mohammad Moosa, who had been imprisoned in Iran for 9 months without charges, fled political persecution in Iran. Following stays in Iraq and Pakistan, on July 29, 1990, Ehsan, age 16, finally arrived with his mother as an asylum seeker in Norway where his brother Mohammad Moosa had already been accepted as a quota refugee through UNHCR. Ehsan became a Norwegian citizen in the mid-1990s.

Ehsan is a political activist, not a militant. He had traveled to Pakistan on a Norwegian passport in 2009. If Ehsan is now guilty of some crime, let Pakistani officials bring charges and allow him to defend himself in a court of law.

We friends of Ehsan plead with the U.S. government to help our ally Norway secure the release of its citizen. We also urge the U.S. government to pressure Pakistani officials to honor their commitment to the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture, to which they are a signatory, as well as provide access to its courts for citizens like Mahboob Wadhela Baloch who are not able to seek the support of foreign governments in the resolution of their cases.

Wendy Johnson
New York

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer Fax: (202) 228-3027
U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman: Fax: (718) 423-5053
U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman:  Fax: (202) 225-5879
U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson: Fax: (202) 225-1593
Consulate General of Pakistan, New York: Fax: (212) 517-6987
Embassy of the United States, Islamabad: (+92) 51-2276427

Director General Janis Bjørn Kanavin, Norwegian Foreign Ministry: Janis.Bjorn.Kanavin@mfa.no
Robert Kvile, Norway’s Ambassador to Pakistan : robert.kvile@mfa.no
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: post@mfa.no
The Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Police: postmottak@jd.dep.no

Consulate General of Pakistan, New York: Fax: 212-517-6987
Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani: Fax +92 51 922 1596
Minister for the Interior, R Block Pak Secretariat: Fax +92 51 9202624
Dr. Faqir Hussain, Registrar, Supreme Court of Pakistan, Fax + 92 51 9213452
Federal Minister for Human Rights Mr. Syed Mumtax Alam Gillani: Fax +9251-9204108
Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani: Fax +92 81 920 2240
Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi, Governor of Balochistan: Fax +92 81 920 2992
Press Information Department, Pakistan
Federal Investigation Agency, Pakistan

Various human rights organizations and writers at several news organizations, including: The Guardian, The Independent, Real News Network, Gara.net, Klassekampen, the Swedish National News Agency, and friends of Ehsan Arjemandi and Mahboob Wadhela Baloch

Additional background on Ehsan Arjemandi’s case:

Video background (with English subtitles) on Mahboob Wadhela Baloch:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEpfYi-1He8 (with English subtitles)


Please note, if there are any inaccuracies in this letter, kindly forward the details to me and I will update this post: wj@thebaluch.com.

Ehsan Arjemandi
Missing since August 7, 2009

Mahboob Wadhela Baloch
Missing since April 2, 2010

Update: tortured body dumped on February 23, 2011 in Ormara (recovered with body of Arif Rehman)