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Pakistani Journalist Critical Of Military Abducted, Then Freed

Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

A Pakistani journalist and rights activist who openly criticized the military for allegedly meddling in politics was freed early on June 6, several hours after being abducted, her family and colleagues said.

The journalist, Gul Bukhari, who has dual citizenship in Pakistan and Britain, has been a vocal critic of Pakistan's powerful military on social media in the run-up to the July 25 general election.

She has also defended Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party founder, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has clashed with the military.

Bukhari's abduction by unknown men occurred one day after a military spokeman warned at a press conference that it is monitoring citizens who criticize Pakistan, amid a growing crackdown on free speech in the country.

Bukhari was on her way to record a TV program on June 5 on the late-night Waqt news show when her vehicle was intercepted in the eastern city of Lahore and she was taken away, her husband and media colleagues said.

"She is back and she is fine," Ali Nadir, Bukhari's husband, told media, when she was released hours later.

Earlier, Muhammad Gulsher, who is a producer on the Waqt news program where Bukhari was to appear as a guest, raised alarm about her abduction.

He said that, according to Bukhari's driver, a group of pick-up trucks stopped her vehicle and men in plain clothes put a black mask on her face and dragged her away, while other men in "army uniforms" stood guard.

Pakistan's military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bukhari's abduction for several hours drew widespread outrage on social media. Many activists immediately blamed the military, saying it was part of the army's efforts to stifle dissent.

"If true, this would be a most audacious attempt to silence a known critic. Is this Pakistan or Kim’s North Korea or Sisi’s Egypt?" tweeted Syed Talat Hussain, a prominent journalist.

Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former prime minister, said it was "extremely disturbing" and the "worst kind of oppression."

"I hope better sense prevails and she returns unharmed. This is simply not acceptable," she tweeted.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was "alarmed" by the report of Bukhari's abduction, and called on police to ensure her return.

"Pakistani journalists have seen enough tragedy," the journalism watchdog group tweeted.

Several social media activists were kidnapped in Pakistan in the past year in what rights activists say were attempts to intimidate and silence critics of Pakistan’s security establishment.

Five Pakistani bloggers went missing for several weeks before four of them were released. All four fled abroad and at least two afterwards told media that they were tortured by a state intelligence agency during their disappearance.

The military has staunchly denied playing a role in any enforced disappearances, as has the civilian government.

In the run-up to the polls, media houses have complained of growing censorship by the military establishment.

In the past six months, Bukhari, who has 69,000 Twitter followers, has penned several critical articles for the Nation newspaper about Pakistan's military and the judiciary, accusing them of overstepping their constitutional mandate and trying to interfere in the political process.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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