Four social media activists with outspoken, secular and anti-military views have gone missing in Pakistan in recent days, sparking fears of a crackdown on leftwing dissenters.
Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have a history of illegal detentions and of not notifying relatives about where they are or why they are being held. However, such “forced disappearances” are usually directed against those suspected of involvement in terrorism or violent separatism.
One of the four men, Asim Saeed, was abducted from his home in Lahore on Friday after he had returned from working in Singapore. Ahmad Waqas Goraya, another online activist who is usually based in Holland, was detained on the same day, his friends say.
According to a statement given by Saeed’s father to the police, four men arrived at the house in a pickup truck and “forcefully took him away”.
“I made all efforts to locate my son but I have been unable to trace him,” his statement said.
At the time of Saeed’s abduction, the IT worker was carrying his laptop and two mobile phones.
Both Saeed and Goraya help run the Mochi Facebook page critical of Pakistan’s powerful military. The page has recently criticised the army’s heavy-handed crackdown on political groups in Karachi, alleged corruption amongst senior officers and accused the military of interfering in national politics.
“We respect Armed Forces of Pakistan as much as they respect the constitution of Pakistan,” runs the text on the Facebook page’s banner.
Salman Haider, a lecturer at Fatima Jinnah Women University, failed to come home on Friday. His wife received a mysterious message from his phone saying he was abandoning his car on the Islamabad-Rawalpindi motorway. The car was later recovered by police.
On Saturday the interior minister said he had urged police to find Haider, a playwright, poet and editor of Tanqeed. The online magazinehas criticised army counter-insurgency operations in the southern state of Balochistan.
Relatives of the fourth man, Ahmed Raza Naseer, say he was taken from his family’s shop in the Punjab district of Sheikhupra on Saturday.