The latest case is that of Raza Khan, a civil society activist, who has been missing from his home in Lahore for several weeks now. Not only did he go missing, a euphemism in Pakistan for abduction by security forces, his house was ransacked and his computer taken away. His family believes he is being detained by the security agencies and that he might, or might never, return….writes Rifan Ahmed Khan
With frightening immunity and dreadful brutality, the state of Pakistan is silencing dissent and dissenters, one by one, across the state. It is today a state where only vitriol and those spewing vitriol in the name of religion are free to air their hateful broadcasts, not the fast diminishing group of liberal voices.
The latest case is that of Raza Khan, a civil society activist, who has been missing from his home in Lahore for several weeks now. Not only did he go missing, a euphemism in Pakistan for abduction by security forces, his house was ransacked and his computer taken away. His family believes he is being detained by the security agencies and that he might, or might never, return.
Well-known columnist Zahid Hussain, writing in the English daily, Dawn, on December 13, said Raza Khan’s crime “ is that he has a thinking mind and idealises regional peace and coexistence, something that is unacceptable to the self-appointed guardians of our ideological frontiers.“ The self-guardians are the Generals and their bearded proxies.
Calling such cases “state-sponsored disappearances“, Mr Hussain, said the number of people made to disappear by the state was rising at an alarming speed. A recent Amnesty International report called the enforced disappearances as a “blight on Pakistan’s human rights record”. The report pointed out that hundreds and possibly thousands of cases were reported from across the country in the past few years. “Victims of enforced disappearances are at considerable risk of torture and other ill treatment and even death. To date, not a single perpetrator of the crime has been brought to justice,” the report said.
Mr Hussain says what was most alarming was the fact that significant spike in the mission person cases has occurred this year, under the democratic rule. Nearly 300 complaints of forcible abductions by the security forces, were received by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances set up by the government from August to October 2017, “by far the largest number in a three-month period in recent years“.
The highly insecure state, which wants to control the people with utmost ruthlessness, has been extraordinarily harsh on the social media activists. Mostly young, a handful of them have been leading campaigns for great transparency in government functioning, liberal values, check on extremist ideologies and not the least, better relations with India, the principle bugbear of the Generals and mullahs alike.
Raza was one such activist who has been fostering better understanding between the two countries through posters and paintings done by school students. He has also been an environmental activist. None of the activities in any civilized society would seem to be against the country or against the people and yet, the security agencies thought Raza was a threat to their interests and was abducted and, if he is alive, kept in one of the several illegal detention centres run by the state.
Mr Hussain wrote ominously that the “enforced disappearance of Raza and so many others before him highlights how dangerous the country is becoming for rights activists and for those who dare to raise their voice against excesses perpetrated by the state.“
He is not alone in making such strong comments about the state, now effectively ruled by the Generals. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), on the occasions of the International Human Rights Day (December 10), issued a statement : “In the lead up to the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2018, HRCP believes that the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Pakistan is extremely disturbing. Stifling citizens’ freedom of expression will lead to the negation of all other human rights.”
The statement pointed out that in recent months the state enforced or took steps ” like clampdowns, stoppages, manipulation, enforcement of the draconian Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and increasing threats and intimidation of journalists“ to silence the media. The commission said those who tried to courageously do their duty as reporters and journalists and writers, despite such draconian restrictions have been routinely abducted. “These enforced disappearances have included social media activists, news reporters, bloggers, journalists and human rights defenders. The latest victim is Raza Khan, a peace activist “.
In a strong editorial, The Nation (December 10), Pakistan suffers from the “ curse of enforced disappearances, discrimination on religious grounds, and gender based violence.“ Referring to the Pakistan’s recent induction as a member-state to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, the newspaper wrote that “ victory rings hollow in light of the events taking place across the country.Activists and journalists have been ‘disappearing’ on a regular basis, and all of them seem to be abducted for speaking out against the state and the establishment.“
The Daily Times, in an editorial, which came out in support of the missing Reza Khan, pointed out that in 2017, there have been several cases of “enforced disappearances of progressive and secular activists critical of the way state institutions have managed the country’s internal security and foreign affairs“. The editorial pointed that the state, instead of releasing these activists, launched a malicious campaign against them by accusing them of blasphemy; the state-sponsored anchors went to town with their vitriolic smear campaign, justifying the actions of the state in abducting the activists.
The newspaper pointed out that “the practice of clamping down on dissent using violent and extrajudicial means continues unabated in Pakistan and it is unfortunate that political leaders claiming to be the torchbearer of rule of law are silent over such transgressions.“ A rare exception could be Senator Farhatullah Babar, who told the Senate’s standing committee on human rights recently that “We all know who is picking them up but we never make that information public”.