Disturbingly, the fundamental right to freedom of speech in Pakistan is under threat. The enforced disappearance of anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan paints a gloomy picture of the state of democracy. Khan’s abduction and the subsequent silence from law enforcement agencies are chilling indications of a wider, more insidious issue: the stifling of dissenting voices.
The handling of Khan’s case, rife with contradictions and a blatant disregard for constitutional rights, is an alarming reality check on the current state of free speech. This situation demands urgent public attention and dialogue.
Below, we share an article published by The Dawn that delves deeper into the matter.
Published June 1, 2023
It gives insight into the obduracy of those in whose custody Imran Riaz Khan is being held that multiple appeals from various quarters have not had even the slightest effect.
The anchorperson was arrested on May 11 from Sialkot airport by law-enforcement agencies on charges of hate speech, two days after violent protests erupted countrywide in the wake of Imran Khan’s arrest. Released later that day, he was immediately picked up by ‘unknown persons’.
Since then, despite court orders, condemnation by rights groups and journalists’ organisations, and his father’s emotional appeal before the Lahore High Court, nothing has been heard of him. His lawyer has stated a few times that he has learnt through his own initiative that Mr Khan is alive and well and may soon be released. One hopes this is indeed the case, though that cannot be allowed to deflect from the brazen illegality of his abduction and his detention beyond the reach of his family and legal counsel.
The pattern of Mr Khan’s disappearance is the same as that of others before him — flat-out denials by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of any knowledge of his whereabouts, as though feigned ignorance when a citizen vanishes into thin air is a fitting, or sufficient, response.
On Monday, the IG Punjab’s submission before the LHC that Afghanistan-linked phone numbers were involved in the media personality’s disappearance further muddies the waters in what is a clear case of extrajudicial disappearance. Mr Khan had been articulating sentiments unacceptable to the powers that be, so his right to due process and several other constitutionally protected rights were blithely violated.
Anchorperson Sami Abraham encountered a similar fate, except he was released within a week. However, with the examples of journalists Salim Shahzad in 2011, not to mention Arshad Sharif very recently, Mr Khan’s safe return cannot be taken for granted. But it must be demanded, and his enforced disappearance condemned in no uncertain terms.
Source: The Dawn, June 1st, 2023