Nisar’s statement

Updated January 21, 2017

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INTERIOR Minister Nisar Ali Khan has taken a timely stand on the issue of the missing bloggers. One hopes he can follow it up with the firmness and clarity that are required.

If so, it may yet prevent what is at the moment a matter of deep concern that could lead to a terrible denouement.

On Thursday, the interior ministry issued a statement asserting there was no truth to reports in the media that any case had been filed against the online activists that accused them of blasphemy, describing such claims as “ridiculous”.

The statement also decried the “negative propaganda” particularly on social media against the missing men, and alluded to the perils inherent in the allegations against them.

“Perhaps [these elements] do not realise that this act of theirs is further increasing difficulties for the affected families,” it added.

Chaudhry Nisar’s assessment, while broadly correct, does not quite spell out the awful truth: if the vilification campaign against them continues along the path it is taking, the bloggers’ very lives will be in danger when they are released.

Freedom would mean little in such a context. These were precisely the misgivings conveyed by the activists’ families and supporters in Islamabad on Wednesday.

In a statement issued by them, they described the malicious propaganda as an attempt to divert public sympathy for their plight and that of their loved ones.

Indeed, the groundswell of intimidation and violence driven by wild, unfounded allegations has been growing in intensity.

In Karachi on Thursday, supporters of religious groups hurled stones at protesters demonstrating against the enforced disappearances, and demanded the men be put on trial for blasphemy.

Civil society, at least the sections of it that believe in rational discourse and due process, are looking to the government to assert its support unequivocally for the missing five.

Moreover, the interior minister, who is after all the country’s police and intelligence czar, should also be more forthcoming: first, where are the men?

They must be recovered immediately and their protection ensured. Second, who instigated the allegations of blasphemy and to what purpose?

Those culpable should be exposed for the dangerous game they are playing. They have, perhaps deliberately, trigged a new and sinister turn of events, one that bodes ill for rights activists.

By default, it gives regressive state and non-state elements a deadly weapon they can access anytime, anywhere to throttle dissent.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2017