A fifth Pakistani rights activist has gone missing, his colleagues said yesterday, as the UN raised concerns over shrinking freedoms for campaigners.
Samar Abbas, a middle-aged information technology worker and head of the anti-militancy Civil Progressive Alliance, disappeared under mysterious circumstances after arriving in the capital, Islamabad, from the southern port city of Karachi on Saturday, according to Talib Raza, a colleague from his organization.
“We formed the alliance to protect the rights of minorities. He had launched a struggle against the banned militant outfits’ activities and we together staged protests for the rights of the minorities,” Raza said.
“This seems to be an organized attempt to shut the progressive and liberal voices in the country,” he added.
Four leftist bloggers were previously reported missing from various cities in Pakistan between Jan. 4 and Saturday, raising fears of a crackdown on social media, the last bastion of free speech in a country where journalism is increasingly under threat.
Their near simultaneous disappearances raised concerns of government involvement, Human Rights Watch said.
The government has denied this, and Pakistani Minister for Interior and Narcotics Control Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Tuesday told the Pakistani Senate that authorities would soon recover all of the missing activists.
Rights groups have said Pakistani activists and journalists often find themselves caught between the security establishment and militant groups, including the Taliban.
The UN and Amnesty International have expressed concern for the missing activists.
“No government should tolerate attacks on its citizens,” UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye said. “By making the investigation of these disappearances an urgent priority, the Pakistani authorities can send a strong signal that they take seriously the responsibility for the life and security of all of its citizens, particularly in cases involving freedom of expression.”
Pakistan is also ranked among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, and reporting critical of the military is considered a major red flag, with journalists at times detained, beaten and even killed.
In April 2014, unidentified gunmen attacked, but failed to kill Hamid Mir, one of the country’s most recognized TV anchors. His employer and his family later accused the director-general of the powerful Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency of involvement.
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