Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan 'abducted' from Islamabad; family, rights groups call for safe return

Jan had called a crackdown on the country's media outlets 'a systematic attempt by the military and its intelligence agency to assert control.

FP Staff July 21, 2020 23:09:36 IST
Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan 'abducted' from Islamabad; family, rights groups call for safe return

Prominent Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan, known as an outspoken critic of the country's powerful institutions, including its military, has gone missing from the country's capital Islamabad, raising fears that he might have been abducted.

The kidnapping took place around 11 am local time on Tuesday when Jan went to pick up his wife from a school where she was teaching, his younger brother Shahid Akbar Abbassi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

At least 10 heavily armed men in three vehicles intercepted  Jan, said Abbasi, adding that police were going through closed-circuit television footage (CCTV) footage to find clues.

According to a report on Dawn.com, the CCTV footage showed Jan tossing his mobile phone across the school fence before being forced into a sedan by several men. However, the phone was handed to "a man in uniform" by a security guard, says the report.

According to a report in The Tribune, the journalist's wife Kaneez Sughra said in an interview with another publication that Jan's vehicle was found outside her school in Islamabad's G-6 area.

"I believe those who are wielding power...they are the people who took him," Abbasi told AP, while refusing to disclose the names of those he believed were behind the abduction.

A tweet was also posted from Jan's twitter media handle, reportedly by his son.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded "the government immediately ensure the safe recovery of journalist" Matiullah Jan.

Amnesty International South Asia also expressed concerned over Jan's well-being and demanded that authorities should establish his whereabouts immediately.

The Austrian-based International Press Institute (IPI) joined the chorus of calls for Jan's freedom.

"We fear that Matiullah Jan's life is in danger, and immediate steps must be taken to locate him and ensure his release from his apparent kidnappers," IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said in a statement. "Given the history of violence against journalists in Pakistan, the authorities cannot delay in seeking to protect Jan's safety."

Journalists and political leaders, including PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have also called on the government to ensure his safe return.

Extremely concerned at news that @Matiullahjan919 has been abducted from Islamabad. The selected government must immediately insure his safe return. This is not only an attack on media freedoms & democracy but on all of us. Today it is Matiuallah, tomorrow it could be you or I.

— BilawalBhuttoZardari (@BBhuttoZardari) July 21, 2020

Jan, who was fired from Pakistan's Waqt TV station allegedly under pressure from the military, was active on social media and also had a YouTube channel. He had recently been charged with contempt of court for a tweet critical of the judiciary and was scheduled to appear in court this week.

According to a Hindustan Times report, the Islamabad High Court last week dismissed another contempt petition against Jan, noting that the dignity of judges is not so fragile as to be harmed by a tweet.

“The dignity of a judge or a court is not dependent or resorting to the law of contempt. The judgments of a judge and the latter’s conduct is the measure of his or her integrity and independence," the court said.

The HT report said that Jan had been attacked twice in 2017, but had escaped unhurt.

Police said have the begun investigation into the incident, said the Tribune report. Pakistan's Information Minister Shibli Faraz confirmed that the journalist has been "abducted", saying that it was the government’s responsibility to safely recover the “abducted” journalist.

Addressing a news conference, Faraz said that he did not have complete details about the incident but assured the media that the government will take all efforts to find out Matiullah Jan’s whereabouts at the earliest.

According to news agency AP, Jan was an outspoken critic of the government and had called a crackdown on the country's media outlets "a systematic attempt by the military and its intelligence agency to assert control with a facade of a democratically elected government."

Journalists and human rights groups have been sharp critics of the army and Prime Minister Imran Khan's government for what they claim to be a heavy-handed crackdown on free speech and independent journalism.

According to the news agency, Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner of the Jang Group, one of Pakistan's largest media houses and a strident critic of the government is in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau, which investigates charges of corruption.

Rights groups have questioned whether the allegations against Rahman were politically motivated. Rahman's media group has been called out by the government and military for its criticism.

With inputs from AP

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