Indian Catholic News

The ghost prisoners of Pakistan

As another rights activist goes missing, his father struggles to sleep or live a normal life.

 
A civil society protest in Lahore in support of Raza Mahmood Khan, who disappeared Dec. 2. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry)
Lahore: 

Ismail Khan cannot concentrate on farming since the abduction of his son, a peace activist, last month.

“I have to leave everything after sudden calls by human rights organizations for protests and seminars. It is hard to stop worrying and get a good night's sleep. Even drinking a glass of water makes me wonder if he got one. Everybody encourages me to keep hope but it’s tough,” he told ucanews.com.

With the help of Lahore’s civil society, the 68-year-old has been lobbying for the return of Raza Mahmood Khan, who has been missing since Dec. 2. He was last seen attending a seminar on extremism against the backdrop of the recent lockdown of Islamabad, the federal capital, by protesters from religious parties.

Police deny imprisoning Khan, saying they found his belongings scattered on the floor of his apartment. His computer’s central processing unit was also taken, they said.

Khan, 35, was the convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti (The beginning of friendship), an initiative to help students from India and Pakistan send each other messages and paintings depicting peace.

Pakistan’s relationship with neighboring India has worsened over the past six decades since the 1947 partition when British-ruled India was divided on religious lines.

Afraid of being labelled a “foreign agent,” the Catholic Church in Pakistan does not report any peace initiatives with India.

Ismail Khan says his son was inspired by his maternal family side based across the border.

“He visited them three times and wanted to bring the people on both sides closer. Raza is not an agent of RAW (Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wing),” he said.

“On Dec. 21, we received the last call from a private (undisclosed) number. The caller suggested we take a middle path. They also pressurized my eldest son, who is pursuing the police case.”

Missing persons

Ghost prisoners or missing persons started making headlines in Pakistan shortly after the country became an ally of the United States in the war on terror in 2001.

Human rights organizations say the practice of enforced disappearances has been prevalent since the 1970s in Balochistan province.

Some 1,498 cases of enforced disappearances were pending with Pakistan's Commission on Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances as of last November.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) claims 728 Pakistanis were added to the missing persons list in 2016 — the highest number in six years. These include activists, suspected terrorists, political dissidents and critics of the military.

According to research conducted by Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, 98 percent of affected families said they got no legal assistance from the government to pursue the cases of their loved ones.

“The state again failed to punish any security official or police officer accused of disappearing suspects. The claim from certain people that most of the missing persons were kept in internment centers could not be verified due to lack of civilian oversight of these centers,” states the latest HRCP annual report.

The commission also highlighted the issue in a documentary screened during a Jan. 6 seminar titled “Human rights in the era of enforced disappearances” at South Asia Free Media Association in Lahore.

Speakers demanded the criminalization of enforced disappearances, giving judicial status to the commission of inquiry and state ratification of the UN’s International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

Ismail Khan also shared his plight to an audience of more than 100 and later joined a protest demanding freedom for his son. “Free speech a right, not a sin,” stated one placard.

Blogger’s ordeal

Salman Haider, one of five bloggers abducted last year, shared his experience of 21 days of detention in an article for BBC Urdu.

“I was handcuffed and interviewed with my face covered by a black cloth,” he said.

“Irrespective of wrong or right answers to my captor’s questions, and sometimes even before replying, I was slapped, punched, beaten with sticks and pipes and intermittently given electric shocks. Lastly, they asked me where they should throw my dead body.

“One investigator was only appointed to give lectures. He increased my knowledge of adultery by politicians, the faults of democracy, the perverseness of poets, the damage caused by liberalism, the 18th (constitution) amendment and the Dawn Leaks.”

Farooq Tariq, spokesman for the Awami Workers Party, said a person cannot return to a normal life after being held in an internment center.

“After returning home, Haider told me no part of his body is without wounds. Such people have to leave the country and save their lives,” he said.

“We reject and protest against being called a traitor for speaking about peace within our country and with our neighbors. The movement against disappearances will continue on roads and social media.”

South Asia has the highest number of alleged victims of enforced disappearance in the world, with tens of thousands of cases documented in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and India.

Source: UCAN

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