WASHINGTON: The United States as well as the United Kingdom on Friday expressed concern over reports of missing Pakistani social media activists.
Addressing the daily press briefing, Deputy Spokesperson State Department Mark C Toner said: “We are very concerned over reports that several Pakistani bloggers and activists have been reported missing and we’re going to continue to monitor the situation.”
Toner further said: “We, of course, welcome that the interior ministry announced that it’s going to investigate the disappearance of one of those individuals, Salman Haider, and we also appreciate the fact that members of both houses of parliament have voiced their concern and called for an investigation into all four disappearances.”
He said that President Obama was observing the situation closely and keeping an eye on the situation.
The State Department deputy spokesman confirmed the establishment of a tactical operations centre within the US Embassy in Pakistan. “There are several in our embassies worldwide. It’s an embassy operations centre.”
The British High Commission on Friday expressed concern over the missing social media activists in Pakistan demanding measures for their recovery from the government.
The British High Commission spokesman, in a statement released on social media, said that security should be provided to members of the family of missing activists.
“We are concerned about the disappearance of the five activists. The UK calls on the Government of Pakistan to make efforts to locate the men and return them safely to their families. The UK firmly supports freedom of expression,” the statement sent out in a tweet by UK in Pakistan read.
Meanwhile according to a report from London, dozens of Pakistani human rights activists gathered outside the Pakistan High Commission here under the banner of Awami Workers Party (AWP), the UK arm of socialist Pakistani political party, to protest the enforced disappearances of online political activists.
In an alarming development, around 12 critics and activists have been picked by unknown men from across Pakistan and their whereabouts are not known despite assurance by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar that the update about the dissident activists would be released soon. Those who have disappeared include bloggers, poets, writers, and commentators. All those who have been picked are known for their online activism, criticising government policies of appeasement of militant sectarian groups, conservatism and religious militancy. Out of the 12 missing activists, only the names of four are confirmed: Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, and Ahmed Reza Naseer.
Many of those who attended the protest personally knew some of the missing activists. Maryam Abbas Jaffer told The News she worked with Salman Haider for over seven years in Islamabad. “Salman Haider was a kind soul. He stood against dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf and fought for the restoration of democracy and judiciary in Pakistan. He was a kind-hearted brave man who always spoke for the less privileged. His disappearance has shocked us all,” she said.
Speakers called on the Pakistani government to find and return home the missing activists and ensure their safety.
Speakers called on the Pakistani authorities to respect the fundamental right of freedom of speech and assembly of the citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.
Speakers said that they were deeply concerned about the disappearances of prominent progressive activists and were unable to ascertain who is behind the disappearances but there is a clear pattern in the bloggers going missing. They said those missing were known for their anti-militancy activism and openly criticised the government policies which suggested that these activists had not been kidnapped randomly.
A petition was also presented to the Pakistan High Commission, which reminded the Pakistani government of its obligations towards protecting the rights of its citizens. “We believe that these disappearances are a threat to free speech, freedom of expression, and assembly in online spaces in Pakistan.
“We would like to ask journalists, human rights activists, scholars, media associations, writers, poets, artists, bloggers and all the voice concerned from around the world to show solidarity and support for ‘missing’ activists/bloggers who were critical of the establishment’s policies and, through their pages and writings, were trying to create a space for progressive and democratic ideas in Pakistan,” said the petition.