March 8, 2018 / 1:08 PM / 11 days ago

Pakistani activist expected home after 14-month disappearance

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani activist who mysteriously disappeared in January last year has now contacted his family and is expected to return home soon, his brother said on Thursday.

Social activist Samar Abbas disappeared while visiting the capital, Islamabad, along with four other men who were picked up from different cities in the span of a few days.

“He is in contact but not at home,” Samar Abbas’s brother, Ashar Abbas, told Reuters, adding that his brother resurfaced two days ago.

The other men returned after five weeks and have since fled the country due to a widespread campaign that erupted in their absence alleging they were behind online blogs that carried blasphemous content.

Blasphemy is a highly charged allegation in Pakistan where insulting the Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death and even being accused could lead to mob violence and lynchings. Right groups say the law is frequently abused to settle personal scores.

Two of the men, Waqass Goraya and Aasim Saeed, have since said they were tortured by intelligence agencies. A third, prominent poet and playwright Salman Haider, tweeted about being tortured by his captors.

The military denied the accusations.

Abbas declined to comment on whether his brother had mentioned his whereabouts for the past 14 months.

In December, Raza Mehmood Khan, 40, a member of Aghaz-i-Dosti (Start of Friendship) that works to build peace between arch-rivals Pakistan and India, was kidnapped by armed men.

His family has since filed a writ of habeas corpus in a court in the eastern city of Lahore in the belief he has been unlawfully detained.

On the day of his disappearance, Khan had spoken at a forum on militancy and also posted comments on Facebook critical of the military and its suspected link to some Islamist hardliners who at the time were protesting against the civilian government.

In May, Pakistani officials launched a crackdown on online criticism of its military, with security officials scrutinizing up to 200 social media accounts.

Reporting by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Nick Macfie

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