ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – A prominent anti-drone campaigner from Pakistan’s tribal areas who was abducted from his Rawalpindi home last week has been released.
Karim Khan told Al Jazeera he was kept blindfolded and handcuffed for eight days in a basement “torture chamber”, where he was beaten and physically abused before being released late on Thursday night.
Khan said he had been taken from his home by approximately 20 unidentified armed men, some of them in police uniform, during the night of February 5 – just days before he had been due to testify before European parliamentarians about US drone attacks.
“I said that if you are from the agencies, from the police or the government, tell me clearly, I will not have a problem. I am not a murderer, nor a convict nor am I someone who works against the state. Why am I being taken? But they kept saying I should stay silent and stop talking,” he said of the night he was taken.
Khan said his fingerprints were taken by his kidnappers that night.
Undeterred by his abduction, the activist, whose son and brother were killed in a 2009 US drone strike in North Waziristan, is due to fly to Europe along with other relatives of Pakistanis killed by drones late on Friday night.
The delegation, accompanied by a legal team, will be speaking to parliamentarians in Brussels, Amsterdam, The Hague and London later this week.
Khan narrated how he was taken from an intermediate location to a “torture chamber” after “about four or five hours” of driving, and said he was kept hooded and in chains throughout the journey.
that cruelty is being inflicted on us, innocent people are being killed and you are saying that terrorists are being killed.”]
“There were different types of torture. There was mental torture – they would abuse me using very harsh and dirty curse words. Physically, they would punch me and slap me, on the face and shoulder. I was hit with a stick, on my arms and legs. They hit me on my open palms,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Aside from this, they would hang me upside down, and then one of them would hit the soles of my feet with a leather strap so that it did not leave a mark. But it was very painful.”
Khan said the beatings were sustained. He said there were 12 other “cells” in the location where he was being kept, but he was unable to provide other details, because he was blindfolded the entire time he was outside his own cell. The handcuffs and chains on his legs were constantly kept on him, he said.
“When a person is blindfolded […] they feel very bad, and when you are being treated this way, you feel like you are going crazy.”
After eight days of daily beatings, Khan said, he was once again blindfolded and put in a vehicle.
“They did not tell me that they were going to release me. I thought that they were going to kill me and dump my body somewhere remote,” he said.
Instead, Khan’s abductors threw him out of the vehicle in the Tarnol area of Rawalpindi, which neighbours the Pakistani capital Islamabad, late on Thursday night. Most of his belongings, he said, were returned to him, but his cellphone was not.
He then took a taxi to his Rawalpindi home, where he met his wife and four children.
“What else can we be feeling but happiness right now?” Dilbar Jan, Khan’s brother-in-law, to Al Jazeera.
Questions over responsibility
Shahzad Akbar, the director of the Islamabad-based Foundation for Fundamental Rights and a lawyer for several relatives of people killed in drone strikes, including Khan, told Al Jazeera that “definitely some government agency” was responsible for Khan’s kidnapping.
The Pakistani police denied any knowledge of Khan’s abduction, as had a state lawyer representing the country’s Interior Ministry.
Akbar had filed a case at the Lahore High Court following Khan’s disappearance, and the court had ordered the Interior Ministry to produce information on Khan’s whereabouts by February 20.
It is unclear if that case will continue to be pursued, but Akbar said that the state “should not shut the file on it”.
There are currently more than 900 active cases in the Pakistani courts with regards to alleged disappearances carried out by the Pakistani state security and intelligence agencies.
Akbar will accompany the delegation of drone strike survivors and victims’ families to Europe, where Khan says that he will continue to raise his voice for civilian casualties of such strikes.
“I will tell [those that I meet] that cruelty is being inflicted on us, innocent people are being killed and you are saying that terrorists are being killed. […]The tribesmen who have been killed are not terrorists – you are bombing peaceful civilians and calling them terrorists.”
His family, meanwhile, says that they will continue to live in the home Khan was abducted from.
“We are going to stay at home. Where else can we go? This is our country,” said Jan.
Khan said his abductors had warned him not to speak to the media about his ordeal. When asked if he feared retribution for having defied that warning, he said, simply: “Now I am free. […] Death will come when it comes. I do not fear it.”
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Additional reporting by Hameedullah Khan in Islamabad