Family of Pakistan dissident Karima Mehrab urge thorough investigation into her death

·3 min read

TORONTO — The family of an internationally prominent Pakistani dissident urged a thorough investigation into her death, saying Wednesday they were having difficulty accepting a police conclusion she killed herself.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Sameer Mehrab was careful to say the family had no evidence his sister, Karima Mehrab, was in fact the victim of foul play, but said they found it unlikely the Toronto resident would have drowned herself in the frigid waters of Lake Ontario.

"Police are saying it's like a textbook suicide," he said. "We are not suggesting anything but we want to be open to other possibilities due to the threats she was receiving."

Online posts showed hundreds of people rallying in the Pakistani region of Balochistan on Wednesday to protest what they saw as Karima Mehrab's killing. They urged a fair investigation into the death.

Toronto police have offered few details publicly about what happened to Mehrab, 37, widely known as Karima Baloch, who fled Pakistan for Canada in 2015.

She had been an activist on behalf of the often violent quest for Baloch separatism and continued her activism from Canada. Pakistan's military and government have steadfastly denied any rights abuses in the Baloch region.

While police said they were aware of the concerns around Mehrab's death, they had found no evidence of foul play after her body was pulled from the lake on Monday.

"The Toronto Police Service is aware of heightened community and media interest surrounding a missing person investigation," the force said in a statement on Wednesday.

"The circumstances have been investigated and officers have determined this to be a non-criminal death and no foul play is suspected."

Mehrab's brother, however, said the family has had little success in getting investigators to delve into the threats he said his sister and her husband had received. In one such threat, a person warned her husband that she would get a "Christmas gift" she would never forget, her family said.

"We actually tried to tell the police every time they call us that this is the history, but they refuse to be convinced because, according to them, they don't have any evidence (of foul play)," Sameer Mehrab said.

From what the family has learned, Karima Mehrab was anxious about an economic exam she was to write as a first-year student at the University of Toronto. Her doctor had prescribed mild medication to help her sleep, her brother said. The doctor saw no sign of severe depression, her family said he told them.

Mehrab left home alone on Sunday, her family said.

Transit records and surveillance video show she made her way to the Toronto Islands, a favourite place for her to clear her head, her brother said. Police found no indication anyone was with her, he said they told the family.

"Her being alone is not evidence that she was not harmed," her brother said.

Lateef Johar, a close friend, said Mehrab's belongings were found on the island.

Those close to Mehrab said she was a strong person for whom life was improving, and she would never have killed herself. She left no note or gave any indication she was planning self-harm, her brother said.

Sameer Mehrab, himself a refugee who now lives in Toronto, worked for years in the Middle East with another Pakistani dissident and exile, Sajid Hussain, editor in chief of the Balochistan Times. Hussain was found drowned in a river earlier this year in Sweden. Authorities said there was no indication of foul play but couldn't rule it out definitively.

The Canadian government expressed its condolences on Karima Mehrab's death Tuesday but refused further comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press