Saturday 31 December 2016

Man Wrongly Arrested Over Berlin Attack Now Fearing For His Own Life

Naveed Baloch

Naveed Baloch was crossing a road in central Berlin on the evening of 19 December, having just left a friend’s house. He was halfway over it when, seeing a car heading towards him, he increased his speed. “I then realised it was a police car. I stopped when they beckoned to me, and showed them all the ID I had on me.”

They let him go but within seconds had called him back. Before he knew it he was in the back of the car, its lights flashing as it sped through Berlin. His hands were bound behind his back. Later that night, he said, he was blindfolded and taken from “one police station to another place” about 10 minutes away. He recalls two police officers “digging the heels of their shoes into my feet”, and one of the men “putting great pressure on my neck with his hand”.

They undressed him and took photographs. “When I resisted, they started slapping me.” They took three samples of his blood. A 24-year-old Pakistani identified only as Naveed B was named by German police and the interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, just hours after the deadly attack on a Christmas market on Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz, as their prime suspect.

Members of his family in Pakistan have been contacted by the security services and have been receiving threatening phone calls following the widespread distribution of his photograph and name. “My family and I agree we would be safer if we speak out, and the sooner the better,” he said.

On the night he was arrested police brought in a translator who did not speak his native Balochi, but Punjabi and Urdu (the latter he understands a bit though cannot speak it much). Baloch said he was asked whether he knew what had happened in Berlin earlier that evening. “I said I didn’t know, and they told me: ‘Someone took a vehicle and drove it into a crowd killing many people. And you were behind the wheel of that truck, weren’t you?’

“I calmly told them I cannot drive at all. Neither can I even start a vehicle. I told them there’s death and war in my country; that’s why I ran away to seek help. You in Germany are providing us with food, medicine and safety. You are like my mother. If you find I was doing these things to your country, you should not give me an easy death, you should cut me up slowly.”

He said he could only assume they understood his answers, though he could not be sure because communication was very awkward.

On being questioned further he told them he was a shepherd by profession, that he had arrived from his Balochistan in February this year, and that he was a devout Muslim who prayed five times a day. They balked at his concern over a looming deadline to pay a fine he owed for fare-dodging on Berlin’s transport network days before. “They said to me: ‘You’re worried about paying a fine, when many people have been murdered?’ I told them I just didn’t want to get into trouble.”

Over two days and one night, he said, they only gave him tea and biscuits. “But I could not eat. The biscuits were disgusting, and the tea was cold.” He slept on a wooden bed without a mattress, his hands bound behind his back on the first night. Having told him already on the night of the attack that they had doubts he was the man they were looking for – not least because there were no traces of blood or injuries on him, despite the bloody struggle that had evidently taken place between the driver and the Polish man from whom the truck had been hijacked – they told him he was free to go. “They explained to me that because I had run across the road when they picked me up, they had reason to believe I might be a criminal. I told them I understood.”

By the time Baloch had been told he was off the hook, the police were already looking for Anis Amri, a Tunisian whose documents had been found in the footwell of the Scania truck that had ploughed into the market and who was later shot dead by police officers in Milan. Like Baloch, Amri was 24 and dark-skinned, but there the similarities ended.

After his release Baloch was taken to a hotel and told he was not to leave unless he informed the police, not because he was still under suspicion, but because his life might be in danger, and that he should under no circumstances return to the refugee shelter at the disused airport in the south of Berlin he had been living in. It had been raided by special forces in the early hours of Tuesday 20 December in the search for evidence to link Baloch to the murderous attack on Breitscheidplatz. There his friends waited anxiously and in vain for him to return.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest, most mineral-rich but also poorest province. Located on the border with Afghanistan, it has been dogged by an incessant cycle of violence and underdevelopment since India and Pakistan’s partition on gaining independence in 1947. The Baloch people – numbering around 13 million in Balochistan province – are a unique ethnolinguistic group who have been marginalised throughout history and many of whom desire independence from Pakistan.

Baloch, whose application for asylum is currently with the German authorities, is still waiting for a translator of Balochi, the main provincial language, to whom he can give a detailed account of his reason for seeking the legal protection of Germany. “When I get my chance, I will tell them that I have threats to my life in Pakistan, that some of my cousins who also belong to the same political party were killed by the security agencies, who picked them up, murdered them and dumped their bodies. Most of the people I worked with have been arrested and killed. I knew it was a matter of time before they came for me. That’s the reason I came to Germany.”



Etiam at libero iaculis, mollis justo non, blandit augue. Vestibulum sit amet sodales est, a lacinia ex. Suspendisse vel enim sagittis, volutpat sem eget, condimentum sem.