Forced disappearances in Pakistan worry activists

2017-01-14 16:14


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Islamabad - In the first two weeks of 2017, five activists have reportedly gone missing in Pakistan. Others have taken to social media to share what they referred to as failed abduction attempts.

Chat groups, email lists and social media are abuzz with multiple reports of as many as nine activists and citizen journalists who have reportedly gone "missing". There is one common thread that haunts the families and the larger civil rights community in Pakistan: uncertainty.

No groups have taken responsibility for abducting them. There's been no response from the authorities on the whereabouts of the people and no admission that they may be under arrest.

The interior ministry has so far said that they're looking into the issue.

The implication that they've been taken by a security agency stems from the testimonies of their families that are far too familiar. Men in plain clothes picking up individuals from their home and taking them away in an unmarked car. At least two of those missing were taken from their homes.

Among the missing are Salman Haider: A professor at Fatima Jinnah Women University, active in Awami Workers Party, a leftist socialist party who was very critical of state policies, editor at Tanqeed - an independent e-zine critical of state policies - and a poet. Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed - both visiting from abroad - and Ahmed Raza Naseer were active political commentators online. Samar Abbas is the president of Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan - working on minority rights especially the targeted killing of Shia Muslims in Pakistan.

The one thing common between the missing five was their critical approach to state policies, the rise of extremism and the military's overreaching on matters outside its ambit. Their abduction sends a strong message that the state is willing to bypass the constitution and overlook the legal and constitutional rights of every citizen to critique and debate state's affairs to threaten, intimidate and silence citizens.

Pakistan consistently ranks very low for press freedom, ranking 147 in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index and "Not Free" in the Freedom of the Press 2016 rankings by Freedom House. This is largely due to several cases of killing of journalists with impunity.

 Both the reports point to threats to journalists, not only from extremist militant organisations, but also the powerful military and its associated intelligence agencies. Journalists covering issues and activists criticising state policies considered sensitive by the military often come under scrutiny, are forcibly disappeared, or killed.

Read more on:    pakistan  |  social media  |  media freedom

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