Missing activists’ families decry blasphemy allegations

Published January 19, 2017
Mufti Faisal Khushi speaks as Mesha Saeed (R), wife of missing social activist Waqass Goraya, Jibran Nasir (2ndR) a human rights lawyer and Faraz Haider (L), brother of missing social activist Salman Haider, listen during a news conference. — Reuters
Mufti Faisal Khushi speaks as Mesha Saeed (R), wife of missing social activist Waqass Goraya, Jibran Nasir (2ndR) a human rights lawyer and Faraz Haider (L), brother of missing social activist Salman Haider, listen during a news conference. — Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Families and supporters of five missing activists on Wednesday denounced what they called a campaign to accuse the men of blasphemy, a highly charged allegation that could endanger their lives were they to reappear.

The accusations — made online and in a complaint to police — have unsettled Pakistan’s small community of social activists. The families of two of the missing men — Salman Haider and Waqas Goraya — described them as part of a “malicious campaign”.

“This campaign can only be meant to divert public sympathy away from our plight and the plight of our loved ones, who have been illegally abducted,” the two families said in a statement handed out at a press conference in Islamabad.

Associates and supporters of all the five men missing since Jan 4 deny they have blasphemed. Some rights groups and newspapers have questioned whether state or military agencies were in some way involved.

The interior ministry has said it is seeking information and the Federal Investigation Agency says it has not arrested them. Other state agencies and the military declined to comment.

Salman Haider, a leftist writer and professor, disappeared in early January as did liberal bloggers Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed and Ahmed Raza Naseer, as well as Samar Abbas, head of an anti-extremism activist group in Karachi.

Haider Shah, of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan, said the blasphemy allegations endangered the activists. Even if they were freed without charge, they could be targeted by extremists, he added.

“These people will be running from these allegations for the rest of their lives,” Mr Shah said.

One of the first blasphemy allegations appeared on Jan 9 on the ‘Pakistan Defence’ page on Facebook. The anonymous Urdu-language post displayed photos of Haider, Goraya and Saeed linking them with a Facebook group called Bhensa, which it said contained “blasphemy toward the Quran”.

When contacted by Reuters via email, an anonymous administrator for Pakistan Defence said the Facebook page and website were an “open source debate platform” and that comments were linked to members who “contribute anonymously”.

The administrator added that, while many posts praised the country’s military, the army was in no way associated with it.

A group called Civil Society of Pakistan filed a police complaint over the weekend against the missing men, demanding that they be charged with insulting Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Its chairman Tariq Asad said the organisation had filed the complaint in outrage after reading about the case.

Police officer Khalid Awan, based in Islamabad where the complaint was lodged, said it was under legal review, but so far formal criminal charges had not been brought.

Published in Dawn January 19th, 2017

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