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Pakistani journalist freed hours after abduction

Activists celebrate the release of Matiullah Jan, a critic of the military and judicial establishment

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Pakistani journalist freed hours after abduction

A journalist holds a placard during a protest against the abduction of Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan in Islamabad on July 21. (Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP)

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A prominent Pakistani journalist who has been critical of the military and judiciary was freed last night after a forceful abduction in Islamabad.

A group of armed men wearing police uniforms and in plain clothes kidnapped Matiullah Jan, a freelancer who has worked for local and foreign media outlets, on July 21 outside a girls' school where his wife teaches. Law enforcement agencies denied his arrest.

The hashtag #BringBackMatiullah was a top-trending Twitter topic in Pakistan after he was seized. That same evening, many journalists protested at the national press club in Islamabad to demand the release of their colleague. They held up placards with the phrases “Where is Matiullah Jan?” and “Stop enforced disappearances.”

Jan was released after 12 hours at a deserted area in Fateh Jang, 40 kilometers southwest of Islamabad.

“I asked them what the problem is. Why am I being abducted? But they pushed me inside a car. I was kept blindfolded and shifted to two different places. In the evening, they drove around Islamabad and left me at a dirt road,” he told the media.

Last week the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a contempt of court notice to Jan over a tweet criticizing judges and the judiciary.

Human rights activists joined journalists in celebrating his release. “The whole of Pakistan rose against the abduction of Jan. Long live the defeat of kidnappers and his freedom,” said Samson Salamat, chairman of the interreligious Rawadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance), in a Facebook post.

According to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), it has become the norm in Pakistan to suppress voices of dissent to control the media, impose censorship and deny freedom of speech and expression.

“We condemn the disappearance of Matiullah Jan and stand with him for his courageous and bold stances on issues confronted by the people of Pakistan, media and society,” PFUJ said in a statement.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) endorsed the demands of the PFUJ.

“We are deeply concerned about increasing attempts to control the media, suppress independent voices and curb political dissent, thereby creating an environment of constant fear. Matiullah Jan has stood courageously by the people of Pakistan striving to realize their constitutional and fundamental rights,” HRCP said in a press release.

“It is the responsibility of the government to provide safety and security to every citizen, irrespective of his or her religious or political beliefs.”

Scores of journalists protesting the illegal closure of an independent TV news channel viewed as critical of the Imran Khan government were shot at during a protest in Islamabad this month.

Last month two journalists were imprisoned for three days following coverage of the lack of facilities at a quarantine camp near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Pakistan has yet to criminalize enforced disappearances even after a commitment to this effect made by the incumbent government on several occasions.

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