The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed alarm over a growing sense of insecurity among civil society activists following disappearance of several bloggers over the last fortnight.
In a statement issued on Saturday, the Commission stated: “The authorities are surely aware of a climate of increased insecurity and fear among bloggers and activists after at least four bloggers were picked up in the last few days.”
As per reports, four Pakistani bloggers — Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Aasim Saeed — were picked up from capital Islamabad and parts of Punjab Province over last weekend. There has been no word on their arrest by authorities. The families of the missing said they have been assured by the authorities that they will return soon. A fifth person, Samar Abbas, is also reported missing this week.
Protests have been held across Pakistan by civil rights activists who have claimed that the bloggers have been picked up by intelligence agencies.
The HRCP said that the anxiety is fuelled not only by the continued disappearance of the four men but also by a vicious online smear campaign against them. “Whoever has disappeared the four victims has done Pakistan a great disservice. Not only have their deeds done untold damage to Pakistan’s reputation, but also led to us being firmly counted among nations where expression in the cyber space makes activists extremely vulnerable,” it added.
Human Right Commission said it is vital that all elements of the state, including the elected government and the security establishment, reflect on the reasons why fingers are being raised against state agencies for these disappearances. “They must consider why families of the missing men or the civil society would suspect involvement of state agencies,” the statement said.
Civil rights activists and media have called for making the reported detentions public. Leading newspapers have written scathing editorials questioning the motive behind the action. HRCP also said even if any of the missing bloggers are suspected of any wrongdoing, their apprehension in this manner cannot be justified. If such is indeed the case, law must be followed and courts should have a chance to examine the case against them. “It is in everyone’s interest that the missing bloggers are recovered without delay. It must be understood that national interest is in following the rule of law and due process without any exception. HRCP also urges the competent people in the government to reassure the bloggers and activists that it retains the will and the ability to prevent violation of their rights and provide them a safe environment to air their views and engage in activism.”
The U.S. State Department has expressed serious concern over the missing bloggers. “We’re very concerned by reports that several Pakistani bloggers and activists have been reported missing and we’re going to continue to monitor the situation,” spokesman Mark C. Toner said on Friday.