Global rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) has urged Pakistan to immediately release a human rights campaigner after the country's intelligence agency admitted it was holding Idris Khattak, who went missing seven months ago.
In a June 18 “urgent action” letter to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, AI urged Islamabad to immediately disclose the whereabouts of Khattak to his family.
“Either immediately release him or ensure that he is brought promptly before a judge in a civilian court to rule on the lawfulness of his arrest or detention,” the letter said, adding that Khattak “must be granted access to his lawyer and family immediately.”
According to Khattak’s lawyer Latif Afridi, in a letter to the government commission on enforced disappearances, Pakistan’s Defense Ministry admitted Khattak is in the custody of Military Intelligence, a spy service. The ministry said Khattak was being charged under the 1923 Official Secrets Act (OSA), a colonial-era law against espionage and leaking government secrets.
AI said Khattak, 56, who suffers from chronic diabetes, went missing in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in November. “It is distressing that there is no way to know if Mr. Khattak, a patient of diabetes who already requires daily medication, is receiving adequate protection from the COVID-19 outbreak,” the organization noted.
Islamabad's admission followed a relentless campaign by his family, activists, AI, and other international and local groups. Khattak had researched Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas, now merged into the province, for international rights groups.
For years, AI has campaigned for criminalizing forced disappearances because victims of the practice are at risk of torture and death. Khan and senior members of his cabinet had promised to declare the practice illegal before and after assuming power in August 2018.
"In Pakistan, enforced disappearance has been used as a tool to muzzle dissent and criticism of military policies," AI said in a statement. "Disappearances are a tool of terror that strikes not just individuals or families but entire societies."
-- With reporting by the DPA