Just as mysteriously they had ‘disappeared’, one by one between January 4 and 7 from different cities in Punjab – one of them a Karachiite on a visit to Islamabad – five social media bloggers have been gradually appearing during the last few days.
At first, two of them Salman Haider, a poet and an academic associated with the Fatima Jinnah Women’s University in Rawalpindi, and Asim Saeed of Lahore who works with the IT department of a Singapore-based German company, contacted their families and returned home soon afterwards. A day later, the other three also called home. The fearful men would not speak to the media about their ordeal. In fact, Asim Saeed’s father told journalists that his son was asked not to talk to the media or reveal any details to the family.
As per standard practice, the police in such cases interview the victims before letting them meet with their families to find out the identity and motive of the abductors, not in this instance. They had a lame excuse to offer for not doing their job, saying they wanted to record Haider’s statement but could not due to some health issue.
It is not known who abducted these people and why. What is known is that the bloggers had been expressing opinions on their respective social media sites that offended someone, somewhere. And that certain elements also launched a social media campaign against them while a TV talk show host joined in to level blasphemy allegations against them. Also, a Lal Masjid group calling itself “Civil Society of Pakistan” filed an application for the registration of a blasphemy case. As it is, a mere allegation of this nature in this country amounts to pronouncement of death sentence.
The episode holds dangerous ramifications not only for the bloggers who went missing – they need to be provided with necessary security – but for the wider society in terms of reinforcement of intolerance. Bigotry and vested interests dressed as piety are already causing grievous harm to this state and society. More to the point, attacks on freedom of expression are simply unacceptable in this struggling democracy.
Enforced disappearances, per se, whether they have involved Baloch insurgents and suspected religious extremists, and now people holding dissenting views, are anathema to civilized sensibilities. Anyone found violating the law or threatening national security ought to be duly charged with and presented before a court of law.
In the present case, the government has a responsibility to ensure that no one can act with impunity to forcibly disappear citizens. It is expected to have the law enforcement agencies investigate who is responsible for the kidnapping and illegal detention of the bloggers, and make the findings public too. -Business Recorder