Rights groups say blasphemy allegations against disappeared activists aim to silent dissent for good.
A Pakistani peace activist has been abducted in the eastern city of Lahore, prompting fears for his safety, his family and fellow activists confirmed on Wednesday.
Raza Mahmood Khan, 40, was a member of the Aghaz-e-Dosti (Initiation of Friendship) organisation, and was known for his grassroots activism around the issue of India-Pakistan friendship, said Saeeda Diep, a prominent social activist in Lahore.
Khan went missing on Saturday, his brother Hamid Nasir told Al Jazeera, after attending an open discussion event on the topic of extremism.
“We plan to hold a protest later in the week,” said Diep. “We are also going to file a habeus corpus writ in the Lahore High Court. We think that those lucky few who get released after abductions such as these usually come through the action of the courts.”
On Twitter, users shared news of Khan’s disappearance using the #FindRaza hashtag.
Earlier this week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court took the country’s security apparatus to task for the hundreds of missing persons cases that remained unresolved in the country, casting doubt over the government’s defence that those reported missing had disappeared of their own accord.
At least 1,498 cases of enforced disappearances remain pending with a government investigative commission on such cases, according to a report submitted to the top court.
The report said that more than 2,257 cases had been marked as resolved after the whereabouts of those reported missing had been traced. Hundreds of those people are being held in military-operated internment camps – where Pakistani law allows authorities to hold suspects without charge indefinitely – across the country’s northwest.
Several social media activists who have been critical of the country’s powerful military – which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 70-year-history – have gone missing in recent months. Others have had cases lodged against them under the country’s cybercrime laws.
In January, four activists were released three weeks after being abducted from Lahore, the capital Islamabad and the central Punjab town of Nankana Sahib. Two of them – Aasim Saeed and Ahmad Waqass Goraya – later alleged to Al Jazeera and in social media posts that they had been abducted, tortured and interrogated by Pakistani intelligence agents.
Pakistan’s military and intelligence services deny any connection to the disappearances.
Desktop computer missing
In a move that was uncharacteristic of him, Khan had shared several posts that were overtly critical of or poking fun at the military in the days before his disappearance, said Diep, who described Khan as being “like a son to me”.
“He was so low-profile, he never came forward that much,” she said. “He worked in a small capacity to discuss things related to India-Pakistan friendship.”
The event in Lahore where Khan was last seen was organised to discuss a 20-day sit-in by protesters that had blocked a major highway into the Pakistani capital over alleged blasphemy.
Khan expressed views that were “very critical” of the sit-in, the Reuters news agency reported, citing the event’s host. After nearly three weeks, the Islamabad protest ended when organisers won almost all of their demands, including the resignation of the law minister they accused of committing blasphemy, in an agreement brokered by the military.
“He had never received any kind of warning or threat, from the intelligence agencies or others,” said Diep. “He was not someone who was very influential or from the elite, he did not have a lot of Twitter followers. He belonged to a very humble background.”
Nasir, Khan’s brother, said that when police searched the activist’s home it did not appear to have been ransacked. The central processing unit for Khan’s desktop computer was the only thing missing from the apartment, he said.
The police case had registered a kidnapping against unidentified suspects and were cooperating fully with the family, he said.
“The police has to tell us who would have a motive to take him. They need to go through his call records and the CCTV footage, only then will we know what happened,” said Nasir.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.