Written By: Adam Peach
January 28, 2017 3:40AM EST
Since the first week of 2017, “digital activists” and bloggers have been mysteriously vanishing in Pakistan. It’s been reported, four “citizen journalists”were abducted from the city of Multan, on January 1. Reports suggest that the journalists were summoned to the FIA’s(Federal Investigation Authority) office but never returned.
Ahmad Waqass Goraya and Asim Saeed were abducted on January 4. They’re both both human rights activists and co-administrators of both a Facebook page and a group, where they campaigned for human rights and religious freedom. There, they would regularly expose human rights violations by security forces and religious extremists in Pakistan. The page has since been taken down.
Two days later, January 6, another abduction. Salman Haider – social media activist, renowned poet, University lecturer, and editor of an independent magazine called, Tanqueed – was reportedly abducted in Islamabad. Then, on January 7, Ahmed Raza Naseer was taken from his family’s shop in Punjab province, by unidentified men. Naseer, also a human rights activist, is administrator of a Facebook page – reporting similar events as that of Goraya and Saeed – was also targeted in the sweep.
MirrorAsia reported that Naseer was sitting with his brother at their shop outside, when a man holding a mobile phone to his ear walked in. After looking at some mobile phones, the man asked their names. The brothers answered, and the man asked them which one used a particular phone number – it was Ahmed’s.
“The man tells him to take his phone and come and sit in the car outside, where a sahab [important man] is sitting who wants to ask you some questions,” – his younger brother Tahir, who was ordered to stay inside, reported by Al Jazeera.
Ahmed has not been seen by anyone since.
The FIA allegedly targeted the citizens for posting a “fake” picture involving Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on December 28, 2016. Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali complained about the picture, in a letter to the Ministry of Interior. Following this, The FIA traced identities of those who shared the picture. This was done through tracing their IP addresses, followed by a legal notice sent through WhatsApp – Ordering them to appear in court on December 31.
No one has come forward with the whereabouts of any of these people yet. It is feared by many that they’ve been charged with Blasphemy – a death sentence, in Pakistan. Insulting the Islam prophet is a the death sentence in Pakistan, defiling the Quran carries a life sentence. Rights groups have previously claimed that blasphemy accusations have been previously used to taget minorities, or to settle personal scores.
Major smear-campaigns against the men abducted have been pushed through Facebook groups with, in some cases, millions of followers, labelling the men as blasphemers. It was reported that one particular group, with almost half a million followers, accused the activists of being funded by the Indian government. It was also reported that conservative groups have lobbied the government to register more cases, such as this, in Pakistan.
“These [Facebook] pages … are extremely insulting to the Prophet, the Quran, Allah and Islam. They have made a joke out of this,”
Abdullah Cheema, guest on popular television news show on January 12.
“These blasphemers who they have captured, whoever has captured them, may Allah bless those people,”
Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a well-known Muslim leader in a sermon uploaded to YouTube, Jan 13.
“The group of atheists committing blasphemy on Facebook … have been defeated,”
Post by Pakistan Defence, pro-military Facebook page with 7.5 million likes.
Rights groups are worried that the blaspheme charges are being used as a weapon, to silence those who speak out about the state. This, in turn, can silence other activists by instilling fear.
In August 2016, the government of Pakistan introduced a law used to undermine citizens’ freedom of expression. The law allows the government is able to censor online content, criminalize internet user activity and access internet users’ data without judicial review.
“Disappearances of people mean the disappearance of voices – and of an alternate, dissenting political dream for what Pakistan can be. They only have to pick up a handful of people, as they’ve done now, to scare and silence us all.”
Mahvish Ahmad, a journalist and founder of the magazine Tanqeed.
It is unknown how many people have been arrested since the “fake” picture was uploaded. It’s also still unknown where any of these people are. Here’s a recent post found on bibleforums.com, posted January 26, 2017:
“Pastor Judoon, our brother in Pakistan, has not been seen since Sunday and his family fear he’s been kidnapped.
They’re worried because Judoon has been supporting a Christian accused of ‘blasphemy’ – the type of case which causes tensions to run high in Pakistan.”
Post made to bibleforums.com