01/11/2017, 15.31
PAKISTAN

Four secular activists go missing, seized perhaps by police

The missing men are Prof Salman Haider and bloggers Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed and Ahmad Raza Naseer. The four men disappeared last week in different cities. They had criticised on social media religious extremism and radical elements in government and military.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Last week four secular activists went missing in different parts of Pakistan. They are Prof Salman Haider and three bloggers, Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed and Ahmad Raza Naseer.

All four men are known for their activism on social media, criticism of religious extremism and radical elements in government and military circles.

Yesterday hundreds of people took to the streets in many Pakistani cities to demand action on these mysterious disappearances so that the activists can soon return to their families.

Their supporters and friends expressed grave concern about the activists’ fate, suggesting that they might have been detained by the government itself.

"This is state bullying. The people who have done this have broken the law," Senator Afrasiab Khatak told protesters in Islamabad.

For the lawmaker, who is also a former head of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, "This country does not belong to any general, or any bureaucrat, or a capitalist or a feudal lord, it belongs to its people. We will not remain silent."

Salman Haider is a well-known poet who teaches at Fatima Jinnah Women's University in Rawalpindi. He went missing last Friday (6 January) in Islamabad. Two days earlier, Waqas Goraya and Aasim Saeed, who are cousins, went missing in Lahore. On Saturday, blogger Ahmed Raza Naseer, who has polio, might have been taken from his shop in Skeikhupura, near Lahore.

The Home minister announced an investigation into Prof Haider’s disappearance but said nothing about the three bloggers. Haider had denounced some enforced disappearances in Baluchistan.

“None of these activists have been brought to any court of law or levelled with any charges. Their status disappearance is very worrying not only for the families, but also for netizens and larger social media users in the country,” said Shahzad Ahmed, head of cyber security NGO Bytes for All.

According to other activists, the state controlled TV, and now it has turned its attention to digital space.

An editorial in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper, noted that it "The sanitised language — ‘missing persons’, ‘the disappeared’, etc. — cannot hide an ugly truth: the State of Pakistan continues to be suspected of involvement in the disappearance and illegal detentions of a range of private citizens.

At present, “a dark new chapter in the state’s murky, illegal war against civil society appears to have been opened. It is simply not enough for government and police officials to claim that the disappearances are being investigated. [. . .] The state, because it is the enforcer of the law, cannot be above the law.”

For Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, "The nature of these apparent abductions puts the . . . government on notice that it can either be part of the solution or it will be held responsible for its role in the problem”.

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