Despite being a serious human rights issue, the number of people who have been abducted and are missing in the country is unknown. In 2015, the country’s highest court sought a report on the number of missing people. According to Amnesty International, an amendment to the 2015 Pakistan Army Act gave retrospective legal cover to arrests by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies.
Citizen journalists arrested in Multan
In a case separate from those mentioned above, on January 1, multiple citizen journalists were arrested in the city of Multan. Reports suggest that the journalists were summoned to Federal Investigation Authority’s (FIA) office and never returned. No one has yet come forth with substantive information about their whereabouts.
According to media reports, the FIA summoned the citizens because they had allegedly uploaded what authorities described as a “fake” picture of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the Chief Justice Saqib Nasir on December 28, 2016, following the Prime Minister’s nomination of the Chief Justice. The Attorney General of Pakistan, Ashtar Ausaf Ali, complained about the “fake” image circulating on social media in a letter to the Ministry of Interior.
Afterward, FIA traced the identities of people who shared these pictures through their IP addresses and sent them a legal notice through WhatsApp, instructing them to appear before FIA in Islamabad on December 31, 2016.
It is yet not clear how many other people were arrested. According to tech blog Pro Pakistani, at least three bloggers have been arrested. According to a source at Geo News, there were as many as 9 bloggers who were summoned by FIA and were in their custody.
As per one report, the number of missing bloggers has gone up to nine. 1 from Islamabad, 3 Lahore, 1 Nankana Sahib and 4 from Multan.
— Marvi Sirmed (@marvisirmed) January 8, 2017
Urdu language daily newspaper Jang reported that the duty judge of lower court sent at least two people on a five-day judicial remand, in order to arrest others.
Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2015
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015, commonly known as Pakistan’s “Cybercrime Law” has five chapters detailing offences like interference with critical infrastructure, cyber terrorism, electronic forgery/fraud, identity theft, sexual harassment, virus spreading, spamming, spoofing and prosecution formalities. While it is not clear if PECA is being used to prosecute these individuals, there is speculation that PECA Section 20 may be invoked:
20: Offences against the dignity of a natural person: Whoever intentionally or publicly exhibits or displays or transmits any information through any information system which he knows to be false and intimidates or harms the reputation or privacy of a natural person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend up to 10 million rupees or both.
Many questions remain unanswered. It took almost a week to present the detainees before the court and warrants were not secured to seize their devices.
— Rabia Mehmood (@Rabail26) January 9, 2017
Nazzia Shafiq Momina appealed to authorities on Facebook:
Stop the persecution of hapless citizens while banned terrorist organisations roam free and win by elections under the patronage of the government. Indians, Pakistanis, Hindus Muslims, Atheists, Shias, Sunnis, all secondary. Humans before anything else.
#BringBackOurActivists protests planned so far:
Karachi | Tues 10 Jan @ 4pm, Karachi Press Club
Islamabad | Tues 10 Jan @ 4pm, National Press Club, Islamabad
London | Friday 13 Jan @ 4pm, High Commission of Pakistan, London
Spread the word.
The propaganda continues
As families of the missing appeal for more information regarding the whereabouts of their loved ones, there is a significant false information being spread against the missing persons. Pakistan Defence, a pro-military establishment Facebook page with 7 million followers shared a post accusing three of the missing bloggers of alleged blasphemy and being associated with a controversial Facebook page Bhensa.
Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a Pakistani civil liberty activist, lawyer and bloggers said that this is false propaganda by Defence.pk (Pakistan Defence Page). He also shared this in a video message with his followers.
— Jibran Nasir (@MJibranNasir) January 9, 2017
As families, civil rights groups and media organisations demand answers on the whereabouts of the missing activists, fear for their lives runs deep.
(from Qurratulain (Annie) Zaman at Global Voices)
How are so many left-leaning bloggers missing in such a short period of time? Where are they? Get the word out and share their story.