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Pakistani Journalist Home Safe After Abduction That Lasted 12 Hours

Kaneez Sughra, wife of prominent Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan, shows a picture her husband to journalists.
Kaneez Sughra, wife of prominent Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan, shows a picture her husband to journalists.

A prominent Pakistani journalist known for his criticism of the military has returned home after being kidnapped in Islamabad one day before he was scheduled to appear in court over a tweet critical of Pakistan's judges and military.

Matiullah Jan, who was found safe 12 hours after being abducted on July 21, told Pakistan's private TV channel Geo News he was blindfolded and taken to an unknown location after being shoved into the assailants' car.

He said he was then driven around the city before being released in Fateh Jang, about 45 kilometers outside the capital. A close friend and fellow journalist, Azaz Syed, published a photo of Jan after his release.

Jan, a freelancer who has worked for local and international news outlets, was due to appear in the Supreme Court this week after the court took notice of the alleged contemptuous tweet, the newspaper Dawn reported.

Khawaja Asif, a former foreign minister and senior leader in the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), held a news conference to condemn Jan's disappearance.

Jan "has talked about media and journalism," Asif said, noting the court hearing on July 22. "To take him into custody now is an attempt to silence him and his journalism," Asif said, according to Dawn.

He said the PML-N would support people who are targeted after speaking against the government, adding that the manner in which journalists have been silenced in Pakistan "does not happen in civilized societies."

Jan was abducted by several unidentified men after they intercepted his car, his colleague Asad Toor said. Footage from surveillance cameras showed men dragging a driver out of a vehicle and pushing him into another car before driving away.

"There were more than five people -- some in civilian clothes, others in black uniforms -- who forcibly picked up my husband," Jan's wife, Kaneez Sughra, told AFP. She said her husband had been followed by unknown men in recent weeks.

Information Minister Shibli Faraz also confirmed the journalist's abduction, according to Dawn.

Leading politicians, activists, and journalists had called for the journalist's release on Twitter, with the hashtag #BringBackMatiullah trending in the country.

Jan, who has worked as a print and broadcast journalist for the past three decades, has been intimidated, harassed, and attacked in the past, his friend Azaz Syed said.

He was fired by Pakistan's Waqt TV station, allegedly under pressure from the military, which has been a frequent target of his criticism.

A spokesperson for the military declined to comment on Jan’s case.

Pakistan’s military plays an outsized role in the domestic and foreign affairs of the South Asian country of around 220 million and critical reporting of the institution is not tolerated.

Journalists and bloggers inside Pakistan have complained of intimidation tactics including kidnappings, beatings, and even killings if they cross a red line in their reporting on the military.

Several Pakistani journalists were briefly detained in recent months, allegedly by the military's spy agency, in what is thought to be an attempt to silence criticism of the powerful military.

The military has denied the accusations.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, Dawn, and AP