Karima Mehrab Baloch: Activist who fled Pakistan to save her life found dead in Toronto

Karima Mehrab Baloch, 37, a prominent Pakistani rights activist was found dead in Canada’s Toronto city on Monday evening where she lived on a refugee status .

Rights group Amnesty International and others called for a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death.

“I am with her family [and] I was there when police came to us and confirmed that they found her body,” said Lateef Johar Baloch, who is not related to Karima but is a close friend and associate

“It is confirmed that she is dead, and her body was found from water near Toronto.”

“It is currently being investigated as a non-criminal death and there are not believed to be any suspicious circumstances,” said Caroline de Kloet, a police media relations officer.

Karima had earlier been reported missing by Toronto police on Sunday in the Bay Street and Queens Quay West area, according to a police statement.

Rights groups and Pakistani rights activists, particularly those living on asylum status in foreign countries, have called for a thorough investigation into her death, alleging it may have been carried out by state actors.

Karima was a prominent ethnic Baloch rights activist, having led the Baloch Student Organisation’s Azad faction (BSO-A), an organisation at the forefront of the political movement calling for the independence of Pakistan’s ethnic Baloch areas and documenting alleged human rights violations there.

Baloch activists, particularly those calling for independence, have been subject for years to a sustained and documented campaign of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, local and international rights groups say.

Located in Pakistan’s southwest, Balochistan is the country’s largest but least populated province and is rich in minerals and other resources.

Baloch rights groups have long decried what they term Pakistan’s extractive policy towards the region, mining it for resources but leaving it languishing at the bottom of most socioeconomic indicators in the South Asian country.

For more than a decade, armed ethnic Baloch groups have also been fighting a separatist war against Pakistani security forces, killing many Pakistani security forces and civilians in attacks they say are aimed at achieving independence.

Pakistan’s military routinely denies allegations of rights abuses, saying most of the region’s “missing people” are members of armed groups who fled their homes voluntarily.

Karima was one of the most prominent voices calling for justice for political activists who were allegedly abducted or killed by Pakistan’s intelligence services. She took over the leadership of the BSO-A after the disappearance of its previous head, Zahid Baloch, in 2014.

Facing threats to her life, she fled to Canada and was granted permanent political asylum in 2017.