The first of five Pakistani social media activists believed to have been picked up by intelligence agencies returned home on Friday night amidst persisting fears about the fate of the other four.
Police said university lecturer and activist Salman Haider, who was reported missing from Islamabad on January 6, was in good shape but his family refused to comment.
Haider, who raised issues such rights violations in Balochistan and violence by militants, was abducted while on his way home on the outskirts of Islamabad. It is believed pressure from outside Pakistan helped secure his release.
After Haider went missing, a report was registered at Lohi Bher police station by his wife. Police found the academic's car at Koral Chowk but were unable to trace him. On Saturday, police said Haider was with his family in Islamabad but did not give details.
The disappearances prompted a series of protests by rights groups across Pakistan, and lawmakers called on the government to locate the men. Activists said they should be produced in court to face formal charges if they had been detained by intelligence or security agencies.
Four other activists - Ahmed Raza Naseer, Samar Abbas, Asim Saeed, and Ahmed Waqas Goraya - were either abducted or reported missing since early this month. All were critical of the state’s policies and advocated for civil rights.
Saeed and Goraya were known for managing Mochi, a well-known anti-military Facebook page. The abductions startled a number of social media users and people running web pages critical of the military, and many deactivated their accounts.
Goraya and Saeed disappeared from Lahore on January 4, Naseer went missing from Sheikhupura in Punjab province on January 7 while Naseer was abducted from his electronics shop in his village just outside the town of Nankana Sahib.
Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had directed police and other organisations to expedite efforts for Haider’s recovery and to use all available resources.
Investigations revealed a Toyota vehicle, which is thought to have been following Haider before he went missing, had a fake number plate, police officials said. Local media reports suggested this proved the intelligence agencies were involved.
Last week, lawmakers of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party submitted a calling attention notice in the National Assembly Secretariat regarding the disappearance of Haider. “It is highly concerning that activists and intellectuals from other parts of the country have also gone missing in the last one week. This is a serious matter and needs an immediate response from the government,” the notice said.
Haider also served on the board of editors for Tanqeed, a bilingual online magazine that is one of the few alternate media sources in Pakistan which highlights state and policy failures related to security and citizen’s rights. The magazine has regularly criticised military operations and the situation in Balochistan and Pakistan’s lawless northwestern tribal areas.