The 12-hour abduction-and-return of journalist Matiullah Jan, known for his criticism of the military and the government alike, has proved yet again that Pakistan is being run by the unknowns. These known unknowns know that they can get away with anything, thanks to the culture of impunity that protects them.
All it takes is a Vigo, three cars, an ambulance and some na-maloom afrad (unknown persons) to whisk away a detractor of the mighty Pakistani State. But when the act is recorded on a CCTV camera, it gives no room for denial. This is what happened to Matiullah Jan, a vocal critic of the government and the military — a job he’s done so well over the years that he had to lose his position with Waqt News in 2018. His views and reportage had earned him a spot on Director General Inter-Services Public Relations’ (DG-ISPR) list of journalists involved in anti-State activities on social media. Jan was attacked in 2017 by two men with bricks who smashed the windscreen of his car in Islamabad while his children were inside the vehicle.
— Asma Shirazi (@asmashirazi) July 21, 2020
Ask questions with caution
While the Supreme Court has taken cognizance of Jan’s abduction, and sought a police report in two weeks, the senior journalist continues to face the top court’s contempt proceedings in a different case. Latif Khosa, a member of the Pakistan Bar Council expressed concern around Jan’s abduction in broad daylight: “Is this a banana republic?” Only if this were a question.
Jan’s abduction shows how out-of-depth and incompetent the Imran Khan government is when it comes to walking the talk. On enforced disappearances, the prime minister is on record to have said that if in his tenure, any agency harasses an innocent citizen, then either he’ll stay or the agency. He will resign, an empathetic Khan had promised. He was once a protesting voice against the human rights abuse by the very State which now guards him: “Shame for all Pakistanis that families’ find the state makes loved ones simply disappear!”
The phenomena of “missing persons” is not new. Upright journalists being hounded by State agencies is also not new. What is new is the noose around the media that continues to be tightened in an attempt to stifle their freedoms — all this in Imran Khan’s civil-military hybrid regime that promises a Naya Pakistan.
Or face enforced disappearances
Since 1992, 61 journalists, including The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl, Asia Times Islamabad Bureau Chief Syed Saleem Shahzad and Geo News reporter Wali Babar have been killed in Pakistan while performing their duties.
The threats and attacks against such people for just doing their job lurks constantly. Geo News host Hamid Mir survived assassination attempt in 2014 at and The News reporter Umar Cheema was abducted, tortured and humiliated by the State agencies in 2010. Zeenat Shahzadi, a Lahore-based news reporter who was covering the case of Indian national Hamid Ansari was abducted under mysterious circumstances in 2015. Columnist Gul Bukhari was kidnapped and then released in 2018. While some are returned at midnight, some are forced into oblivion. This is the price you have to pay, it seems like a new social contract.
Enforced disappearances have long been used as a weapon by the Pakistani State to silence the known or the unknown citizens alike. It is a technique of terror, hence the impunity around it. There are hundreds and thousands of people, especially in Balochistan and the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, who have suffered because of the successive Pakistani governments looking the other way when it comes to bringing the ‘unknown’ abductors to justice. So much so, that before a United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2017, Pakistan called the enforced disappearances voluntary disappearances — the victims abduct themselves and release themselves.
The abduction of Matiullah has brought back memories of the previous incidents of enforced disappearances and attacks on Pakistani journalists in particular.
Pakistan’s largest media conglomerate Geo Group’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakilur Rehman remains under arrest without any formal charges, now for over 132 days. The Geo Group alleges that the arrest is part of PTI government’s personal vendetta against Rehman and his TV channel.
24News HD Chief Executive Officer Mohsin Naqvi announced earlier this month that he was shutting down the channel after repeated “blackmailing of the federal government” over channel’s licence suspension. This led to the Lahore High Court staying Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s suspension of the channel’s licence, allowing it to operate.
Imran Khan’s ministers like Faisal Vawda don’t shy away from even abusing journalists on Twitter. In one such brawl on the social media platform, Vawda went on to remind Umar Cheema of The News about the reporter’s abduction and how his head was shaved off after his release.
Vawda has said that anyone disloyal to PM Khan in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf should be hanged. But you won’t ever hear any condemnation on this from the office of the prime minister. For all said and done, in Naya Pakistan, the Pakistan media, in Khan’s opinion, is freer than the British media.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.