Activists agitate against ‘enforced disappearance’ of bloggers
Voicing their concerns over the recent disappearance of progressive social media activists – believed to be abducted – several rights and political activists gathered outside the Karachi Press Club on Monday demanding that the authorities should take immediate steps to rescue them and secure the constitutional and democratic right to freedom of expression in the country.
Dr Salman Haider, Ahmad Waqass Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Ahmed Raza, and other secular online writers went missing in the last few days in Islamabad and Lahore and their whereabouts are still unknown.
To pressure the government to locate and rescue them, progressive political parties and organisations have decided to stage a series of protests across the country.
The rights and political activists and bloggers who staged the protest outside the press club demanded that the apex court and parliament should take notice of the “enforced disappearance” of Dr Haider and others.
The protest was jointly organised by the National Trade Union Federation, the Inqilabi Socialist, the Communist Party of Pakistan, the Jeay Sindh Mahaz, the Home-Based Women Workers Federation, and the Inqilabi Aadrash Forum.
Carrying placards and banners, the participants of the rally chanted slogans against the “abductions” and demanded that the families of the missing bloggers should be informed about their whereabouts.
Abdul Wahid Baloch, a Baloch activist who himself was abducted in July last year and released in December after being kept four months in detention, also attended the protest holding a placard of a photo of Dr Haider.
Nasir Mansoor, a progressive political leader and one of the organisers of the protest, said the disappearance of activists, intellectuals, and critics, who were active on social media, had caused serious concerns among the public as well as civil society and political circles.
“The government claims that democratic institutions have become strong and nobody can be arrested for their peaceful democratic struggle. But the recent disappearances have totally proved the government’s claims to be false,” he added.
He said the National Assembly, the Senate and the Supreme Court should take notice of the abductions and ensure that the missing people were found. “If someone is involved in some criminal activities, then they should be presented in court.”
Naghma Shaikh, a young activist, said the recent disappearances showed the State’s intolerance towards freedom on digital spaces.
“Now they want to snatch freedom of expression on social media from us,” she added.
Other prominent activists who attended the rally included Riaz Ahmed, Abdul Khaliq Junejo, Zehra Khan, Hani Baloch, Rasheed Taj, Shireen Ijaz, Aabida Ali, Mushtaq Ali Shan, Ashgar Dashti, Shafiq Awan, and Sabawoon Bangash.
Pakistan People’s Party Human Rights Cell central coordinator Dr Nafisa Shah expressed her concerns over the disappearances. She pointed out that apart from Dr Haider and the three other bloggers, a large number of political activists had gone missing in Sindh and Balochistan too.
“The interior minister must come clean on this matter and take urgent steps for finding these activists. The information technology minister should also give us answers as apparently the blogs of these activists also been removed ,” Dr Shah said in a press statement.
“Unfortunately, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s federal government has miserably failed to implement the National Action Plan or punish the terrorists. Ironically, social media activists and intellectuals who are in the frontline in challenging extremism in Pakistan are being kidnapped, tortured and victimised,” she added.
Dr Shah also voiced her concerns over the disappearance of political activists and nationalist voices in in Sindh and Balochistan. She demanded that the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly should respond to the growing human rights violations in the country.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan too expressed its grave concerns over the disappearances.
“The HRCP is greatly alarmed by Waqass Goraya and Aasim Saeed disappearing on January 4, Dr Salman Haider on Friday and Ahmed Raza Naseer on Saturday,” the rights body said in a statement. It added that the four bloggers were known for their critical views on State’s policies and wrote against extremism and intolerance.
The HRCP said it was not in a position to identify the actors involved in the abductions, but Pakistan had never been a safe country for human rights activists.
“Many have been killed, injured, abducted and threatened over their work. Unfortunately, these actions have not always been carried out by non-State quarters,” it added.
“The events of the last week demonstrate that the danger has extended to digital spaces. We cannot be sure if the four cases are connected but expect that the authorities would look into it.”
The HRCP said at the moment the most important issue was to find the four activists. “We hope that the authorities will respond to the urgency of the task at hand.”