Abductions, Censorship and Layoffs: Pakistani Critics Are Under Siege

Recent abductions of a journalist and an activist have underscored Pakistan’s worsening rights conditions as the country’s security forces pressure the news media and human rights groups.Kaneez Sughra, wife of the seized Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan, shows a photograph of her husband. Mr. Jan was abducted from a street in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, in late…

Abductions, Censorship and Layoffs: Pakistani Critics Are Under Siege

Recent abductions of a journalist and an activist have underscored Pakistan’s worsening rights conditions as the country’s security forces pressure the news media and human rights groups.Kaneez Sughra, wife of the seized Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan, shows a photograph of her husband. Mr. Jan was abducted from a street in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, in late July.Credit…Aamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesPublished Aug. 3, 2020Updated Aug. 4, 2020When Prime Minister Imran Khan boasted last year that Pakistan had one of the “freest presses in the world,” journalists were quick to object, saying that intimidation of reporters across the country was intensifying. It has only gotten worse since.Two years into Mr. Khan’s term, censorship is on the rise, journalists and activists say, leaving the country’s heavy-handed military and security forces unchecked as they intimidate the news media to a degree unseen since the country’s era of army juntas.The security forces frequently pressure editors to fire or muzzle reporters, journalists say, while the government starves critical news outlets of advertising funds and refuses to settle previous bills worth millions of dollars.The abduction of a prominent reporter by state security officers in late July, coupled with the disappearance of a rights activist in November, has heightened those concerns. In June, Pakistan’s Military Intelligence agency admitted that it had detained the activist and that he is awaiting trial in a secret court on undisclosed charges.“Disappearances are a tool of terror, used not just to silence the victim but to fill the wider community with fear,” said Omar Waraich, the head of South Asia for Amnesty International.“In Pakistan, the military’s intelligence apparatus has used disappearances with impunity,” Mr. Waraich said, adding: “Civilian politicians look on helplessly, affecting concern and promising to investigate. Unable to uphold the rule of law as Imran Khan vowed to do, their authority erodes.”On July 21, the reporter, Matiullah Jan, had just dropped off his wife at her job in an upscale neighborhood in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad when several men, some in plain clothes, others in counterterrorism police uniforms, dragged him from his car, bundled him into one of their vehicles and sped away.Mr. Jan, 51, is a vocal critic of Mr. Khan’s governing party, the judiciary and the military, which critics accuse of working together to preserve their power and stamp out dissent.ImageMr. Jan, center, with colleagues in Islamabad last year. The journalist is a vocal critic of Pakistan’s governing party, the judiciary and the military.Credit…Akhtar Soomro/ReutersFootage from a security camera clearly shows the police’s involvement in the abduction, working alongside men in civilian clothes that many believe are Pakistani intelligence officers. The footage culminated in a pressure campaign on social media and Mr. Jan was released 12 hours later. He released a vague statement saying he had been abducted by forces that are “against democracy.”Multiple requests to the Pakistani government and military to comment for this article went unanswered. Pakistan’s security forces have not publicly commented on Mr. Jan’s abduction.Under Pakistani law, state-direc
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