Enforced disappearances must end

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Yet another progressive activist has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Reza Khan, a peace activist based in Lahore, hasn’t been heard from since December 3. The missing activist is a member of a group named Aghaz-e-Dosti that advocates for peace between Pakistan and India and has offices in both countries.
According to his friends, Khan spoke at a discussion about extremism a day before he went missing and was critical of the security establishment’s role in his comments. The discussion was held in the aftermath of the recent agreement signed between the government and the extremist group Tehreek-e-Labaik that led to the end of the sit-in at Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad.
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.
Five social media activists had gone missing in January this year. Four of them later returned to their families but one still remains missing. Days later, a malicious campaign went underway in which these activists were accused of posting blasphemous content online. Alongside this, several television anchors ran a smear campaign, justify their abduction. The resultant threats to their lives left the returned activists with little choice but to move out of the country.
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.
Thankfully, there are a few who continue to raise the issue in corridors of power. Senator Farhatullah Babar, while discussing the issue during a recent meeting of the Senate’s standing committee on human rights, stated, “We all know who is picking them up but we never make that information public”. The statement is alarming and goes to show that even parliamentarians are afraid of naming those behind the practice of enforced disappearances.
In the same meeting, the Senate committee also decided to summon recovered missing persons and record their statements. While such discussions at the parliamentary level are important, the members of the committee must be aware of the consequences these activists may have to face if they appear before the committee. Therefore, precautionary measures must be taken before the activists are called in to record their statements.
Democratic forces need to unite on the issue of enforced disappearance and raise a collective voice in condemning this illegal and undemocratic of practices.