HRs violations, arrests and release “Abduction of journalist Matiullah Jan is the latest saga of disappearance in Pakistan”


Nation special report (Part I)

Violations of human rights in Pakistan and subsequently arrests and release of acivitsts and journalists are not new but common. A summary with reference of published details in Pakistani newspapers are enough to report in defence.

In a latest saga, the Supreme Court on Wednesday took notice of journalist Matiullah Jan’s abduction from the capital a day ago and directed the Islamabad police chief to submit a report on the incident in two weeks. A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, was hearing a suo motu case pertaining to alleged contemptuous tweets by Jan.

Matiullah Jan

At the outset of the hearing, the bench inquired about Jan’s abduction from Islamabad’s sector G-6/1-3 the previous day.

The attorney general, who had appeared before court today, said that “immediate proceedings” had been initiated in the matter.

Justice Gulzar summoned the Islamabad police chief in the next hearing and questioned why the police had not recorded the journalist’s statement till now. “What are the institutions doing?” he asked the attorney general.

Representatives of Pakistan Bar Council and SC Bar Council also attended the hearing. During the proceedings, SCBC’s Latif Khosa, while observing that the journalist was “picked up in broad daylight”, said: “Is this a banana republic?”

Khosa demanded that the kidnappers be identified from the CCTV footage available with the police.

Wife of Matiullah Jan holds picture of him while his son expresses his deep concern over the disappearance of his father.

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists’ former president Afzal Butt insisted that those responsible for the act be brought to light at which the court assured him that “the case was not being wrapped up”.

Meanwhile, the bench granted Jan, who was present in court today, two weeks to hire a legal representative and submit his reply on the Supreme Court’s notice for contempt. The hearing was adjourned for two weeks. The top court had last week taken a suo motu notice of allegedly defamatory tweets by the journalist and issued notices to the attorney general, Jan and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC), on the other hand, had dismissed a petition for contempt proceedings against the journalist for the same posts, saying that the dignity of judges was not “so frail and vulnerable so as to be harmed by a tweet on the social media”.

Meanwhile, the IHC wrapped up a habeas corpus petition pertaining to the abduction of journalist Matiullah Jan and raised alarm while observing that the act was seemingly carried out by people in police uniforms.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah noted that CCTV footage, which allegedly captured the kidnapping of the journalist, showed that those who picked him up were in police uniforms. “Someone has the nerve to do such a thing in police uniforms,” Justice Minallah remarked, adding that vehicles that had surrounded Jan’s car had police headlights as well. “What impression will the public get that people are roaming around freely in police uniforms,” he said, adding that the episode was meant to “scare others”.

The chief justice said because footage showed men in police uniforms, Jan’s abduction would be a “test case” for the police. “If there is no rule of law, there will be nothing here except chaos,” Justice Minallah said.

Jan was abducted outside the Government Girls School, situated in Islamabad’s sector G-6/1-3, by unidentified persons yesterday. After an outcry by journalist community, rights activists and politicians, he returned home late last night — 12 hours after being abducted.

While he was missing, his brother Shahid Akbar Abbasi lodged a first information report against the unidentified persons under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code and also filed a habeas corpus petition through Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon before the IHC.

Jan was kidnapped by nearly half a dozen plainclothes and uniformed men from outside a government school in broad daylight in the federal capital.

The journalist had already been in the limelight due to the contempt proceeding against him in the Supreme Court for his alleged ‘contemptuous’ tweet regarding Justice Isa case decision. A hearing of the case was scheduled on Wednesday.

Alleged CCTV footage of the abduction shows that it was around 11:10am when men in uniform and plainclothes forcibly removed Jan from his car and thrashed him in front of Government Girls School, where his spouse works as a teacher. It can be seen in the footage, which later went viral on social media, that the journalist was being manhandled and dragged towards their vehicles when he threw his mobile phone into the school while a uniformed man immediately collected it from a woman at the school. The journalist was then whisked away to an undisclosed location.

The ‘forced abduction’ not only enraged journalist community and rights organisations but also triggered serious security concerns among legal fraternity, political parties and diplomatic circles.

Justice Qazi Faez Isa along with his wife went to Jan’s house to offer their support and express concern over his abduction. They met his two brothers and a sister in law, who then took them to another brother’s house where his wife and children were staying.

According to Hindustan Times report, In a video released online on Thursday night, Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan has pointed fingers at Pakistan’s security agencies for his abduction, and said that no matter who picked him up “all the agencies are on the same page on this.”

Jan thanked all those who stood up to protest his abduction and observed “it is possibly because of how strongly people reacted that my life was spared”.

Jan was kidnapped from outside a public school in the heart of Islamabad at around 11 am on Tuesday. He was released about 12 hours later in a desolate area near Islamabad by his captors.

In the video, he spoke in Urdu about how a hood was put over his face. Jan said he was also blindfolded and handcuffed for most of the time he was in detention.

Jan recalled how he was pushed and shoved when kidnapped and when he was taken to what appeared to be a cell in an abandoned police station. “Time and again they told me that they knew who I was and that I needed to be aware of the consequences of what I was doing.”

The Pakistani journalist recalled that his blindfold moved in two instances “as if they wanted me to see where I was being kept”. In the video, Jan recalled that the place looked like a police station and that his captors insisted on speaking in Pushto, “although I could tell they were not native Pushto speakers with the way they were speaking.”

After spending several hours in the confined cell, he was taken to a desolate area where he was again asked his name. “Here my captors asked me my name and when I gave my name yet again, they sounded like they had abducted the wrong person. After a while they opened my handcuffs and then left me in the middle of nowhere.”

Jan said that he made his way to the nearest locality and from there was able to make his way home. In retrospect, he said while his life was spared, “a message was given by those who consistently fight against democracy and democratic values.” He said his biggest disappointment was when he appeared before the Supreme Court after being released, the court ordered a report on his “alleged” abduction instead of accepting that this actually had happened.

1- Jameel Ahmed Mahar, a journalist and Senior Vice President of Shikarpur Union of Journalists (SUJ) was shot and wounded by masked assailants near the Gul Wah (irrigation channel) area in Shikarpur on June 2. According to reports in Pak media, local residents told police that Mahar was followed by two assailants riding a motorcycle, escorted by some people riding a car. The pillion rider on the motorcycle fired several shots at him. SUJ President Agha Israr Ahmed; President of Shikarpur Press Club, Rahmatullah Soomro;  Chairperson of Sikh Seva Society, Sardar Ram Singh and members of local journalist community have condemned the attack and demanded immediate arrest of the assailants. Mahar was associated with Sindhi Daily, ‘Koshish’. [Dawn, June 3rd, 2020]

2.             Prof. Sajid Soomro, a professor at Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur and a published author, was arrested (June 10) from his house in Ali Murad Mohalla, Khairpur city on charges of blasphemy. Providing details of the arrest, Advocate Fayaz Khamisani, Soomro’s friend and Khairpur Bar Association’s Joint Secretary, said that he tried to convince the police not to arrest Soomro but the police barged into Soomro’s residence forcefully and detained him. He added that the allegations against Soomro are very serious as Section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, mentioned in the FIR against Soomro, was non-bailable. Activist and lawyer Sattar Zangejo, another friend of Soomro, said that such allegations would make matters difficult for the activists who seek to highlight human rights issues in society. According to him, Soomro had been engaged in a tussle with Ahmed Solangi, another member of literary organization Sindhi Adabi Sangar, in recent months.

[The Express Tribune, June 11]

(To be continued in next issue.)