Civil society members on Thursday held a protest demonstration at Lahore Press Club against abduction of progressive social media activists. The participants were holding placards inscribed with slogans condemning what they termed as an attack on free speech.
The missing rights activists include Professor Salman Haider, Ahmed Aslam Goraya, Asim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Samar Abbas who went missing from different cities of the country between January 4 and 7. The government has so far been unable to provide any sort of information on the whereabouts of the activists.
The missing activists were vocal against extremism and terrorism on social media and have also been critical of the government and military establishment for their alleged failure to fully implement anti-terror plan in the country.
The protesters said it was impossible that citizens go missing in such a way and the state does not have the power to have them released. Digital Rights Foundation Cyber Harassment Cell’s Head Shmyla Khan who was present at the protest, while talking to Pakistan Today, said: “Apart from immediate recovery of the missing activists, it is very important to have a larger debate about our digital rights and the shrinking spaces online. She said that this crackdown was the culmination of recent trends where we have ceded space by allowing laws such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act to pass.
There are a number of secular and progressive Facebook pages which have gone offline with the abduction of the said bloggers. Although the missing status of the activists is being widely condemned, some accounts on social media that appear to be affiliated with the government and ruling party, are justifying the abduction and inciting violence against the missing people. The missing bloggers are being accused of blasphemy and pro-government social media pages with huge following are alleging that the bloggers used to manage pages that posted blasphemous content.
Civil society members are of the opinion that enforced disappearance of activists cannot be justified even if they were indeed involved in posting blasphemous content because every citizen has a right to fair trial. Civil society activist Jibran Nasir, who has filed an application with Supreme Court’s Human Rights Cell pleading the apex court to intervene in the matter, said people can accuse malign, threaten and make the progressive activists disappear but all these tactics confirm the insecurity of the perpetrators when faced with truth.
The activists gathered at Press Club demanded the government to immediately make efforts to recover the missing activists and vowed to hold protest every Thursday if the activists are not recovered. On the occasion, the participants also recited Salman Haider’s anti-extremism poems.