The abduction of activists has given a clear message, once again, that the doors to peaceful defiance are not only shut in this country but are too dangerous to even knock on. At least four activists have gone missing in one week: Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Salman Haider — while there are reports of others who may have also gone missing from parts of Punjab. Earlier Wahid Baloch, a publisher, writer and Baloch activist, was abducted and released only after a sustained campaign by human rights defenders and his family. Since his recovery, no clue has been given by the authorities as to who had abducted him. Meanwhile, Zeenat Shehzadi, said to be the first woman journalist to have been forcibly disappeared, has been missing for over a year now.
In such an environment, where do liberal, secular voices go in Pakistan? Prominent liberal voices, among them Sabeen Mahmud, Rashid Rehman and Khurram Zaki, have been killed, and now this practice of abducting activists is becoming a norm. Cases of enforced disappearances have been ongoing for years now, particularly in Balochistan. Not even a long march by women and children from Quetta to Islamabad could shame the authorities in recovering the missing or assuring their mere right to a trial. Pakistan’s authorities have many questions to answer. If the activists are not recovered immediately, the state will make it even more clear that it will continue to fail its citizens and that they are not even safe in the digital world. And not only must state authorities recover them, but also answer where and how they disappeared. This practice of intimidation of scholars and writers must stop. The government can either be clueless or complicit in these cases — both unacceptable and an equally grave cause of concern. Surely, this country must have some space for voices that demand peace and equality for all. Surely this country can do better than let murders room free and abduct peacemakers. Speech must be a lesser crime in Pakistan than mass murder.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2017.