Global and Pakistani human rights watchdogs have called on Islamabad to release or produce a researcher who probed forced disappearances in the country’s restive northwest.
Muhammad Idris Khattak is still missing a week after he was forcibly picked up from a road in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on November 13, according to human rights campaigners. His driver was later released, but there has been no word of Khattak. Police have not launched a formal investigation into his disappearance.
“The Pakistani authorities should immediately release Idris Khattak and other people who have been disappeared, or produce them in a civilian court to be charged,” Omar Waraich, South Asia campaigns director of Amnesty International, told RFE/RL’s Gandhara website on November 21.
In a letter to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on November 21, AI said Khattak is believed to have been forcibly disappeared by plainclothed men in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on November 13.
The organization said that the 56-year-old Khattak had formerly consulted for AI and has documented the human rights violations faced by people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
“Khattak is a longstanding human rights defender who has spent several years documenting human rights violations, including enforced disappearances,” Waraich said. “Now he appears to have joined the ranks of those whose rights he was fighting for.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a leading nongovernmental rights campaigner in the country, said it believes Khattak’s ordeal is a possible forced disappearance, “given that the family say there is no evidence of kidnapping for ransom.”
HRCP’s Mehdi Hasan urged authorities to swiftly act to recover Khattak.
“That the state has not responded to this incident is cause for concern because it reflects indifference towards the grave problem of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, and little respect for the due process of law,” he said in a November 21 statement.
The Pakistani authorities have not commented on the case. But lawmaker Iqbal Afridi, a leader of the ruling Pakistan Teheerk-e Insaf party, says the Pakistani security forces "never pick people up without a reason," adding that Khattak will probably be freed if there are no charges against him.
AI urged the Pakistani authorities to act swiftly to end the practice.
“Enforced disappearances have long been a stain on Pakistan’s human rights record. As of 30 June 2019, Pakistan government’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance has 2,122 cases unresolved,” its letter to the Pakistani foreign minister noted.
Pakistan has been plagued by forced disappearances for nearly two decades. In earlier cases, suspected Baluch separatists in the southwestern province of Balochistan and suspected Islamist militants in the northwestern regions were kept in indefinite detention by Pakistani secret services and security forces. In recent years, members of various political parties, bloggers, and activists have also been forcibly disappeared.