As protests and condemnations over the disappearances of liberal activists in Pakistan grow, a fifth campaigner has gone missing from a southern provincial capital.
Colleagues of Pakistani activist Samar Abbas say he is missing under unknown circumstances.
The Civil Progressive Alliance, which Abbas heads, said on January 12 that Abbas disappeared in the port city of Karachi on January 7.
Talib Raza of the Civil Progressive Alliance said Abbas's disappearance seemed to be part of "an organized attempt to shut down the progressive and liberal voices in the country."
Abbas's disappearance comes amid a spate of similar incidents in which four liberal bloggers were reported missing in several different cities between January 4 and January 7.
Pakistani media reported that social media activists Waqas Goraya and Asim Saeed disappeared from Lahore, a city in eastern Pakistan on January 4. Salman Haider, an academic and blogger, was apparently abducted from a busy highway in the capital, Islamabad, on January 6. The next day, Ahmed Raza Naseer disappeared from Sheikhupura near Lahore, capital of eastern Punjab Province.
Global rights watchdogs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the disappearances.
A January 11 statement by Amnesty International said the four activists “have gone missing in a suspected enforced disappearance by state security forces in Pakistan.”
Amnesty International linked the disappearances to the activists’ views and work. “The activists are known for their social media activism and for expressing their views on human rights issues and state policies,” the statement said.
A January 10 statement by Human Rights Watch noted the activists were “vocal critics of militant religious groups and Pakistan’s military establishment, and used the Internet to disseminate their views.”
The statement noted that the “near simultaneous disappearance” and authorities moving to shut down their websites and blogs has raised grave concerns over official involvement.
“The Pakistani government has an immediate obligation to locate the four missing human rights activists and act to ensure their safety,” said the organization’s Asia director, Brad Adams. “The nature of these apparent abductions puts the Nawaz Sharif government on notice that it can either be part of the solution or it will be held responsible for its role in the problem.”
Pakistani Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan told the parliament on January 10 that authorities are investigating the cases. “We are moving in the right direction and will recover all the four missing activists in light of the ongoing investigation,” he told the Senate, the upper house of Pakistani Parliament.
On January 9, five lawmakers from the secular Pakistan People's Party (PPP) raised the issue in the parliament. "The pattern of these disappearances suggests it is a planned and coordinated action undertaken to silence voices which are critical of prevalent sociopolitical issues in Pakistan," they said in a statement to the parliament speaker.
The United Nations has expressed concern over the disappearances.
"No government should tolerate attacks on its citizens," David Kaye, the UN's special rapporteur on freedom of expression, was quoted as saying.
In scores of sizeable demonstrations across Pakistan, civil society activists and politicians have condemned the disappearances and urged Islamabad to ensure freedom of speech and expression.
Rights campaigners say Pakistan’s powerful security agencies have a long history of threatening critics, dissidents, and separatists. Pakistani and international rights watchdogs have documented hundreds of cases of torture, enforced disappearances, and killings of campaigners, journalists, and members and leaders of groups perceived to be anti-state.
Hard-line Islamist groups such as the Taliban, armed separatists, and conservative political groups frequently threaten and target journalists and activists.
Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Express Tribune