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KARACHI: The recent disappearance of Salman Haider and three other social media activists has garnered a lot of attention and support, with resounding calls directed towards the state to release them immediately.

However, the support shown in the media and on social media failed to translate on ground with attendance remaining thin at a demonstration held to protest their disappearance at the Press Club on Tuesday.

Primarily organised by the Awami Workers Party (AWP), demonstrations were held simultaneously across the country including in Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Faisalabad where teachers, students, civil society activists and members of progressive political parties were in attendance.

The protesters gathered and raised slogans against the hijacking of their civil liberties including the freedom of expression, and demanded the immediate and safe release of activists Salman Haider, Asim Saeed, Ahmed Waqas Goraya and Ahmed Raza.

The demonstrations will continue to be held around the country for a week to protest the disappearance of the four social activists. According to the organisers, the activists have gone missing “presumably for their secular progressive views.”

Haider, a faculty member in the gender studies department at Fatima Jinnah Women’s University, was much respected as a progressive poet, playwright and theatre actor. According to several people at the demonstration, these disappearances are a warning sign that there is a great lapse on the part of law-enforcing agencies in protecting citizens. They claimed that the Constitution is under threat as the protection of the life and liberty of citizens is compromised repeatedly.

With banners and placards, slogans were raised by the protesters demanding the safe recovery of the missing activists, as well as immediately eliminating the lack of transparency in matters that are usually labelled as “anti-state”.

AWP Karachi president Usman Baloch clarified that the purpose of the demonstrations was not personal gain. “I don’t have a blood relation with Haider and the others. But I do share an intellectual bond with them in which the minds have come together to fight against injustice and for those who are oppressed.”

He pledged to continue the struggle till all missing activists safely returned home, and demanded the state and its agencies halt any such activity that trespasses on the civil liberties of the citizens of Pakistan.

Political activist Abida Ali, also part of the demonstration, criticised how the digital space was shrinking in the country and freedom of expression threatened within it.

“Fair trial is the right of each and every person as dictated by international law as well as in our Constitution. If the state feels that an individual has in some way committed an act against it, due process needs to be followed which is violated when the state allows activists to go missing,” she said.

She also spoke about the need to find a permanent solution to the problem with the consistent disappearance of activists around the country. “The state should recognise this as an issue and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance so that rules and regulations in the country can be shaped accordingly.”

Lawmakers too, on Monday, raised their voice in support of the missing activists in parliament, stressing the need to address the situation and track them down.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2017