Three weeks on, five missing Pakistani rights activists return home

ISLAMABAD: January 28, Five bloggers and rights activists missing since first week of January have returned home in the early hours of Saturday as mysteriously as they disappeared. Police confirmed that they reached home. They did not say who kidnapped them or handed them over to the police.

The relatives of the missing had registered cases of their disappearance with police. Police has said it will investigate their disappearance

Families of the bloggers confirmed that all of them are safe. They declined to comment further.

No case registered
Bloggers Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Ahmed Raza Naseer, Aasim Saeed and Samar Abbas were picked up from capital Islamabad and parts of Punjab province between January 5 and 7.

There had been no word on their arrest by authorities despite protests by their families, friends and rights activists. No case has been registered.

The families are requesting privacy and declining further media queries for the moment to disclose who detained them.
But police sources said that the bloggers were subjected to torture and made to sign undertakings that they will not seek a legal course to file cases against the abductors.

Rights bodies concerned
Human rights bodies have expressed serious concern over a growing sense of insecurity among civil society activists following disappearance of several bloggers over the last fortnight. They had called for their immediate recovery.

Protests have been held across Pakistan by civil rights activists who have claimed that the bloggers have been picked up by intelligence agencies.

Rights activists and members of civil society termed it an attempt to curb freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of Pakistani constitution.

Social media fume at bloggers
Social media and couple of TV channels accused the bloggers of running anti-Islam pages.

A TV anchor Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain was banned by PEMRA for hate speech against the bloggers and the rights activists who raised voice in their support and raised questions to probe who abducted them.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had to issue a statement last week that the propaganda against the bloggers was shameful and incorrect. He also made it clear that no case is being registered against the bloggers. He also sympathised with the families of the bloggers, who had to address a press conference in Islamabad to debunk the allegations leveled on social media.

‘Smear campaign against the five’
In a statement, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated that the anxiety is fueled not only by the continued disappearance of the five men but also a vicious online smear campaign against them.

“Whoever has disappeared the victims has done Pakistan a great disservice. Not only have their deeds done untold damage to Pakistan’s reputation, but also led to us being firmly counted among nations where expression in the cyberspace makes activists extremely vulnerable,” the HRCP stated in its statement.

Civil rights activists and media have called for making the arrests public. Leading newspapers have written scathing editorials questioning the motive behind the detentions.

HRCP has also said even if the missing bloggers are suspected of any wrongdoing, their apprehension in this manner cannot be justified. If such is indeed the case, law must be followed and courts should have a chance to examine the case against them. “It is in everyone’s interest that the missing bloggers are recovered without delay. It must be understood that national interest is in following the rule of law and due process without any exception. HRCP also urges the competent people in the government to reassure the bloggers and activists that it retains the will and the ability to prevent violation of their rights and provide them a safe environment to air their views and engage in activism.”

International condemnation
The detentions have also attracted widespread international condemnation. U.S. State Department had expressed serious concern over the missing bloggers.. “We’re very concerned by reports that several Pakistani bloggers and activists have been reported missing and we’re going to continue to monitor the situation,” its spokesman Mark C Toner said on January 13.

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