Whereabouts of missing rights activist remain a mystery

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Pakistani human rights activists hold images of missing activist Salman Haider during a protest in Karachi on January 9, 2017. At least four Pakistani activists known on social media for their secular leftist views have gone missing this week, relatives and NGO workers told AFP, as analysts voiced rights concerns. / AFP PHOTO / ASIF HASSAN
  • Dr Salman’s brother says, ‘Until we have some tangible evidence, one must not blame any institution’

  • Ch Nisar says efforts aimed at recovering missing persons are underway; cautions controversy shouldn’t be created on the issue

It’s almost a week since Dr Salman Haider, a known poet and human rights activist, went missing from suburbs of Islamabad last Friday night on January 6, but the authorities look helpless and clueless about his whereabouts.

Police sources say top investigators have failed to get any concrete evidence about the abductors.

A first information report (FIR) has been registered at the Lui Bher police station and the police are investigating it as a possible kidnapping. Media reports had quoted government sources last week claiming that with the help of CCTV cameras, the authorities had identified two vehicles, in which the kidnappers came to pick up Dr Salman.

The media reports had claimed that the footage had helped identify a Toyota Surf and Toyota Vigo vehicle, in which five persons had come to pick up Dr Salman Haider.

Since then, neither the Police nor the intelligence agencies have been able to make headway in the investigation into the abduction of Dr Haider. Mysteriously, the family of the missing professor has also not been contacted by any individual or group claiming his custody or abduction – a rare pattern in the recent history of the terrorism-hit country.

 No controversy over the issue, says Ch Nisar

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan Saturday said efforts were underway for recovery of all missing persons, so that they could return to their families.

He said only one missing report had been filed for Salman Haider’s disappearance from Islamabad, while the other reports were filed in Lahore. He said incidents of disappearances take some time to be resolved.

Answering a question, Nisar said efforts were aimed at recovering the missing persons at the earliest. Matters in this regard are moving forward but he cautioned that controversy should not be created on the issue.

Lui Bher Station House Officer (SHO) Malik Abid Ikram told Pakistan Today that there was no update in the case, and the police are still struggling to recover the missing professor.

There had been allegations, unsubstantiated till yet, that Dr Salman Haider had been associated with some social media accounts that had been promoting blasphemous material online.

“We have been monitoring some Facebook communities since some time. The FIA then reported the matter to the interior ministry, which ordered to obtain the administrative control of the controversial account,”said a source in the FIA, on the condition on anonymity.” Later, the professor was abducted. We fear that some religious or banned organisation might have been involved, but we have no authentic information,”

An official in the federal police said that Haider’s abductors were last seen heading towards Rawalpindi from Koral Chowk. However, he added, despite the CCTV cameras installed under the safe city project, the cameras couldn’t take pictures of the driver to help identify the abductors.

An investigation team comprising two SPs and a DSP are working hard on the case. Interestingly, SP Investigation Muhammad Ilyas has gone on vacations till January 17.

Dr Salman’s family worried but hesitant to point fingers 

Dr Salman’s brother, Zeeshan Haider, told Pakistan Today that although the police officials have visited the residence of Dr Salman, but there has been no breakthrough as of yet.

“Basically, a case has been registered and the investigation is underway without any breakthrough,” he added.

Asked whether any direct or indirect contact had been made with his family, Zeeshan said no direct or indirect contact has been made from any side.

“Neither Salman contacted us directly or indirectly nor did anyone from his abductors. We are totally in the dark and this is hurting the family a lot,” he said.

Asked whether Islamabad Police had contacted the family, Zeeshan responded in affirmative.

“Yes, SP Mohammad Ilyas, SSP Sajid Kiani and Interior Ministry Director Media Waqar Chohan had visited the family. But they looked clueless too,” he observed.

Asked whether the family believed Dr Salman had been picked by intelligence agencies as is being claimed by several rights activists, Zeeshan Haider said it was premature to jump to any such conclusion.

“There are always allegations whenever anyone goes missing. But, until and unless we have some tangible evidence, one must not blame any individual or institution,” he said.

Zeeshan added that it was the first time social media activists had gone missing simultaneously, which suggested there might be some institution(s) involved, but one must wait for investigators to make a conclusion.

“I believe every citizen has the right to freedom of expression. But even if any social media activist had breached any law, a proper legal course should have been adopted,” he said.

Zeeshan said he believes that incumbent government is responsible for providing protection to its citizens.

“The government is answerable, as one of its senior employees, Dr Salman Haider—who is an officer of grade-19—has been missing. The government needs to recover him,” he added.

He observed that Dr Salman’s disappearance was not similar to half a dozen bloggers abducted from other parts of Punjab Province last week.

“The case of Dr Salman looks distinctive in nature and it’s not the same pattern adopted in incidents occurred in Punjab,” he added. Asked whether the text message received at cell phone of Dr Salman had the same pattern used by him in conversations with his spouse, Zeeshan said it was different, too.

“The writing pattern was not of Salman’s … There were broken sentences in roman Urdu. It is not a pattern adopted by Salman,” he observed.

Did the spooks pick up Dr Salman?

With no breakthrough in investigation into the abduction of Dr Salman Haider, there are several claims being made by rights activists suggesting that intelligence agencies might have picked Dr Salman and other bloggers—who are being blamed by several activists for posting hate material against the armed forces and blasphemous content.

 “My sources claim that intelligence agencies wanted their due role under the cyber crimes from the government laws for action against those allegedly committing online crimes against the state and undermining the national security. The government had agreed with the proposal,” said journalist Zahid Gishkori to Pakistan Today.

He added that rules were being formed under the newly-passed legislation called the ‘Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA) 2016’ to empower many agencies to crack down on individuals misusing the internet.

“The new rules empowered the agencies to operate against those who commit online crimes,” the journalist said, adding that interior ministry had also sought input of Intelligence Agency (IB), ISI and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), asking them to come up with proposals explaining their possible role under the new laws.

 

Farid Sabri also contributed to this story.