Podcast News

New podcast investigates death of activist Karima Baloch and the 'untold' crisis of her people

When human rights activist Karima Baloch is found drowned off the shores of Toronto, an investigation into her mysterious death leads all the way back to Pakistan, the country she had recently fled. In this six-part podcast, host Mary Lynk explores the abductions and killings of dissidents in Pakistan, the dangers that follow those who flee to the West, and an intelligence agency with tentacles around the globe.

‘Karima inspires me to give voice to Baloch dissidents silenced — sometimes by death,’ says host Mary Lynk

The Kill List, an investigative podcast series hosted by Mary Lynk, is available everyone July 11, 2022. (Artist: Anna Campbell (left); Submitted by Mary Lynk (right))

Karima Baloch, a prominent and outspoken human rights activist from Balochistan, seemed impossible to silence. 

This is why her sudden death in late 2020 was a shock to her global community of supporters.

Baloch was found drowned off the shores of Toronto, where she had been living in exile since 2015 after fleeing death threats in Pakistan. She had long been critical of Pakistan's government and active in the struggle for autonomy in Balochistan, the largest province in Pakistan, and continued her activism in Canada.

Journalist Mary Lynk was also stunned by the news of Baloch's death. She channeled her many questions into an investigative podcast called The Kill List, which launches July 11, 2022.

Lynk, whose career spans three decades, is an award-winning investigative journalist and documentarian. Her work has shed light on global human rights injustices. She currently works as a producer with CBC Radio's IDEAS

A new CBC podcast delves into the death of outspoken activist and refugee Karima Baloch, who was found drowned in Toronto in 2020. Host and producer Mary Lynk tells us more about The Kill List.

The host and producer of the series spoke with CBC Podcasts about the making of The Kill List. Here is part of that conversation.

This is your first time hosting a series for CBC Podcasts. Why was this the story you wanted to tell?

I wanted to know more about this charismatic and brave young woman, Karima Baloch. Who was she? How did she become a leader of her people? What was she trying to tell the world before her untimely death in Canada, where she had fled for her life? I had never heard about Karima before, and yet she was named in 2016 to the BBC's annual list of the world's 100 inspirational and influential women for her activism work. Her story is rich, compelling and untold. 

[Karima] made an indelible mark on my life, and is a constant reminder of how we need to speak out against human rights abuses, wherever they occur in the world.- Mary Lynk, host

How do you honour Karima in the series with your approach to production? What measures did you take to maintain the integrity of her legacy?

This podcast series is so much more than the circumstances of Karima's death, it is more about her extraordinary life. Karima had been trying to make the international world aware of the injustices against her people, the Baloch, by the Pakistani State. In particular, the illegal abuctions, detainment and torture of tens of thousands of her people, according to numbers cited by The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. 

So few people in the West have even heard of Balochistan, the largest province in Pakistan, where Karima is from. Unlike the human rights abuses against other ethnic minorities, such as the Uyghurs or Yazhidis, the world knows little of the plight of the Baloch. 

This story is also about other Pakistani dissidents, including those in the West, who continue to speak out about human rights abuses by the state of Pakistan, despite real threats to lives. This podcast series is my attempt to give them a louder voice, and in particular Karima, despite her tragic end. As for the circumstances of Karima's life and death, I took great care to be honest, transparent and respectful of my findings. And while this series deals with difficult subjects, I think people will find it inspirational. Karima described her people's battle as the Davids against the Goliaths. And for those who speak truth to power, they know justice takes time. And now there are other female leaders emerging in Balochistan, following in Karima's footsteps.

"Honour to wear a cap, which has became a symbol of resistance," writes Karima Baloch on Twitter, Oct. 7, 2020. (@KarimaBaloch/Twitter)

What does Karima Baloch mean to you?

Karima inspires me to give voice to Baloch dissidents silenced — sometimes by death — by the Pakistani State. I've said she haunts me, but I mean that in a good way. She has made an indelible mark on my life, and is a constant reminder of how we need to speak out against human rights abuses, wherever they occur in the world. Most importantly, she is a lesson in bravery and goodness.

What are some misconceptions about Pakistan that are challenged through this series?

I think the key is not knowing the rich history of the Indigenous people who lived there, before Pakistan was created in 1947. People like the Baloch, who have lived there for hundreds of years. And that the Pakistani state is committing crimes against humanity in terms of enforced disappearances of its own citizens. 

You refer to this series as "a story a powerful state doesn't want you to know." Have you felt unsafe at any point during production? 

That's a tough question, because when I think of the real dangers facing Baloch dissidents, any concerns for my safety are relatively moot. I am conscious that I probably have come under the radar of the Pakistani state, in particular its notorious intelligence agency, the ISI.

In this Dec. 24, 2020, file photo, supporters of Baloch political activist Karima Baloch hold her portrait during a demonstration to condemn her death, in Karachi, Pakistan. Baloch, who died in exile in Canada in Dec. 2020, was brought home and laid to rest in her home village in the southwestern Balochistan province under tight security, activists said Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (Fareed Khan/AP Photo)

You describe this story as having consumed your life upon learning about it. Can you talk a bit about that? You've been a career storyteller for a long time — what was it about this story that stuck with you? 

What struck me is how this young woman, growing up in a highly patriarchal society, became a leader of her people. This speaks to her charisma, intelligence and humanity. Raised in a small village, where girls were often denied education, she persevered to the point of chairing the Baloch Student Organization — the first female leader in its 50 year history. 

I was also struck by the reach and power of Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency, ISI. They have tentacles around the world. And how, even in the West, Pakistani dissidents feel under threat. And I wanted to know why is the world ignoring this humanitarian crisis in Balochistan — where thousands of people are being "disappeared" by the state of Pakistan simply for speaking out about human rights abuses? Most of all, I am struck by the bravery of individuals in this story. Despite years of torture and threats to their lives, Baloch dissidents refuse to be silent. A friend who heard an early version of this podcast, and who is weary by bad news of late, found this story to be inspirational. I do too.

Q&A written & produced by Émilie Quesnel. Edited for length & clarity.

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