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FILE: Pakistani human rights activists protest the disappearances.

The families of four social media bloggers in Pakistan had a respite when their loved ones returned home after vanishing for nearly three weeks last month.

While Salman Haider, Ahmad Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, and Ahmed Raza Naseer were reunited with their families over the weekend, there is still no news of Samar Abass, an activist in the southern seaport city of Karachi.

The controversy is far from over. The activists and their families remain tight-lipped amid blasphemy and sedition accusations over social media and television. Activists in Pakistan say the bloggers vanished after they criticized hard-line religions organizations and the country’s powerful military on social media.

The recent cases are ominous for the future of freedom of expression in Pakistan, which is already one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, according to the global press freedom watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This particular group, however, comprises only a small portion of cases involving enforced disappearances. Campaigners say security agencies have picked up hundreds of suspected separatists, Taliban insurgents, and political activists over the past 15 years. A government-appointed Inquiry Commission on Enforced Disappearances is currently handling 1,129 cases.

We were lucky to put together a good panel to discuss the issue. Farzana Shaikh, a Pakistan specialist at the London Chatham House think tank, joined Amnesty International’s Asia media manager, Omar Waraich. Jibran Nasir, a rights activist who is campaigning on behalf of the bloggers, shared invaluable insights from Pakistan. I also chipped in from Prague. My colleague Muhammad Tahir hosted the show from Washington.

Listen to or download the Gandhara Podcast:

Gandhara Podcast: Pakistan’s ‘Missing’ Activists And Enforced Disappearances
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0:00 0:42:27 0:00

The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

FILE Pakistani television show host Amir Liaquat Hussain speaks during an interview in 2013.

A Pakistani television channels has defied an official ban barring a controversial orator from the screen after he said five bloggers who have gone missing were enemies who deserved to die under blasphemy laws.

Hours after a government media regulator barred Aamir Liaquat Hussain from presenting a show on the private Bol television channel on January 26, he was back on fire.

“Why are you so bothered by my talk? [Is it because] I expose people?” he asked on his Aisa Nahi Chaley Ga (Urdu for This Is Not Acceptable) show, late on January 26.

Earlier in the day, a directive by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) said that with immediate effect Liaquat should “not host any program or appear on TV in any manner fresh, old, or repeat including (but not limited to) as a guest, analyst, reporter, actor, in audio, video beeper, promo/advertisement of his program, or in person.”

The order added that "Liaquat cannot call anyone an infidel or traitor," adding that hate speech is a crime under Pakistani law.

The showdown is likely to continue. PEMRA is insisting that Bol television follow its orders. A press statement by the organization noted that in a January 27 notice it asked the station “why an appropriate action may not be initiated” against Bol television.

Hussain was not the only TV host to denounce the missing bloggers, but he was the most vocal in consistently suggesting they had committed blasphemy and treason. He also ridiculed other secular people, claiming they are enemies of the state and deserve to be killed.

In Pakistan, blasphemy is a criminal offense that can result in the death penalty. Even being accused of blasphemy can lead to deadly attacks by religious vigilantes.

The five bloggers went missing in separate incidents in the capital, Islamabad, and the eastern cities of Lahore and Nankana Sahib earlier this month. The bloggers were known for their critical views against the country’s military establishment and Islamic extremism.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bloggers’ disappearances, but rights groups say they suspect the bloggers were abducted by Pakistani intelligence agencies seeking to clamp down on dissent.

-- With reporting by Radio Mashaal, AP, dpa, Dawn, Reuters, PEMRA statements, and AFP

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