LAHORE: Zeenat Shahzadi’s brother Salman tries to speak about what his family is going through but words fail him. That is the impact of suicide of his brother Saddam.

“He (Saddam) seemed to miss Zeenat a lot that particular day, and we tried to comfort him and say she would come soon,” says Salman. “He was a heart patient and wasn’t used to handling stressful situations.

“Then he went out after prayers and did not return. It was not until I went to the roof when I saw his body dangling from a tree in a plot next to our house.”

The case of disappearance of journalist Shehzadi hit the headlines when her brother, Saddam, committed suicide.

Mr Salman says the trauma has left his parents so ill, they could barely walk. “If only Zeenat returns our family may receive a little comfort, but we’ve not been given any indication of where she is and why she has been kidnapped.”

He spoke to Dawn at a press conference on Wednesday. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan arranged the event where the disappearance of Ms Shahzadi, a journalist, was discussed.

IA Rehman, Hina Jilani and Nazish Ataullah spoke.

Ms Jilani condemned the disappearance of Ms Shehzadi, calling it “shamelessness” that a 24-year-old woman was picked up without a warrant.

“Is this the new trend to pick up young women? We want to know what her crime was and why she is missing without a warrant?” asked Ms Jilani.

“She was working on a case openly and in courts, and if there is suspicion of her spying then the State agencies should tell the family.”

The Commission for the Enquiry of Enforced Disappearances is working on the case, but not much has been discovered. More disappearances have surfaced and 68 were reported to the commission in the past one month.

Mr Rehman said that most of these cases were in Balochistan, but even of the over 3,000 cases that were reported, over 1,000 are still pending.

“Most of the disappearances happen in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by Sindh and Punjab,” he said.

Even if Zeenat is found guilty, adds Ms Jillani, and she is punished, who would pay for the time of disappearance? “Disappearances are an international crime, who will see to it that the abductors are punished for it?” she said.

Another family at the press conference said that two brothers had been picked up.

“The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) picked up around 6o boys, and released most of them,” says Mazkoor Ahmed, father of the two missing boys. One of his sons was a student in BNU’s Mass Communication Department and the other was working at a telecommunications firm.

“They had no extremist leanings, and in fact wished that sectarianism would end,” said Mr Ahmed.

“CTD officials appeared in court and said they did not know about these two boys. But those picked up along them say they recognize them. Isn’t it obvious then who is keeping my sons?”

The boys, he said, belonged to Jamaat Sautul Umma, but did not have any extremist ideas or thoughts. “Whatever the case is the family wants to know what happened. When they came to pick our sons up at night they did not even allow us to come to the road, and told our neighbours too, to get inside. They roughed my sons up too. My wife today is so sick, she cannot stop crying whenever she speaks of them.”

The case, he says, is in the high court.

“We do not deny that people with criminal links exist in society, but if they are to be arrested and punished, let it be an open court so that people know of their crimes,” said Ms Jillani.

She also criticised the government for allowing the chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri in Rawalpidni, saying that it was a crime to glorify a terrorist. Also the occupation of Islamabad’s Red Zone pointed to the fact that the government had given space to such radicals and that partly showed its resolve to fight militancy and hate speech and extremism.She also added that letters had been sent to the interior minister and the chief of army staff demanding to know the whereabouts of Ms Shahzadi but no replies had been made.

“At least some sort of justice should be served and at some point the law should not be superseded,” said Mr Rehman.

Published in Dawn, March 31th, 2016

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