ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani opposition lawmakers on Monday called for an investigation into the disappearance of four social activists last week, including a prominent university professor who often spoke out over disappearances of fellow campaigners.
Five opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lawmakers asked for a swift government response in parliament and raised concerns about the disappearance of poet and rights activist Salman Haider, as well as three others.
“The pattern of these disappearances suggests that it is a planned and coordinated action undertaken to silence voices which are critical of prevalent socio-political issues in Pakistan,” the PPP lawmakers said, without implicating anyone directly.
Rights activists say the disappearances have stirred unease among those critical of the government and Pakistan’s powerful military, though no evidence has been provided to suggest state actors were involved.
It is not clear how the four men disappeared and Sarfraz Ahmed, Interior Ministry spokesman, said in a text message that “everything is being done to recover Salman”. Ahmed did not respond to requests for comment about the other activists, or the PPP notice served in the lower house of parliament.
Haider, who has written for the largest English-language newspaper, Dawn, and teaches at Fatima Jinnah Women’s University in the city of Rawalpindi, some 15km from capital Islamabad, disappeared on January 6 in the capital.
Last year, Haider wrote a poem about human rights abuses in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, including a line about his friends’ friends disappearing. He queried whether his friends, or even he himself, will be next to suffer such a fate.
“It’s ironic that the thing he was talking about six months ago happened to him,” said Haider’s brother Zeeshan.
“(If) in the capital of Pakistan, a professor who has a very active social media presence can disappear, what will happen to an average person who does not have anyone behind him?” Zeeshan added.
Two of the missing activists, Waqas Goraya and Aasim Saeed, live in the Netherlands and Singapore. Their relatives said they were taken on Jan. 4 while visiting Pakistan. The fourth activist, Ahmed Raza Naseer, suffers from polio.
“The status ‘missing’ is causing a lot of fear in larger social media circles,” says Shahzad Ahmed, director of cyber security think tank Bytes for All. “This is going to cause huge self-censorship in the media.”
Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Ralph Boulton