Like her abduction from Lahore, the recent recovery of the female freelance journalist, Zeenat Shahzadi, after over two years of captivity has given birth to several questions due to unavailability of related information.
The issue of her kidnapping, which is considered by human rights activists a case of “enforced disappearance”, had assumed international importance as she was pursuing the disappearance of an Indian national, Hamid Nehal Ansari, from Kohat district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2012.
Subsequently, after her kidnapping the government agencies had admitted that the missing Indian was in their custody and was later on convicted by a court martial and sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Her release has again brought into focus the plight of Mr Ansari, presently imprisoned at Mardan Central Prison.
He has recently filed a writ petition in PHC, seeking remission in his prison term.
According to the prison record, his imprisonment of three years is being counted from Dec 15, 2015, the day of his conviction.
He was not given remission as the prison authorities state that on his jail warrant the word “anti-state activities” is written in the column of charges.
Mr Ansari has stated in his petition that no evidence was produced against him in respect of his involvement in anti-state activities.
“I had not come to Pakistan for commission of anti-state activities, but to meet a female with whom friendship was developed on facebook,” he claimed, adding that he was neither an Indian agent nor had any connection with any group working against Pakistan.
Zeenat Shahzadi, who was declared her attorney by Ansari’s mother Fauzia Ansari, was seen relentlessly pursing the case of Mr Ansari before the Peshawar High Court as well as the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED).
It was the National Accountability Bureau’s chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal, a former judge of the Supreme Court serving for last many years as the COIED’s chairman, who has reportedly confirmed the recovery of Zeenat Shahzadi on Oct 19.
Several media outlets have quoted Mr Iqbal as saying that Ms Shahzadi was recovered on the night of Oct 10 from near the Pak-Afghan border.
He had reportedly said that some non-state actors and enemy agencies had kidnapped her and she was recovered from them.
He had claimed that tribal elders in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa played an important role in her recovery.
No further details are available as both Ms Shahzadi and her family are apparently incommunicado and her residence in Lahore was found locked by mediapersons.
Her kidnap and recovery both had given birth to questions like: Who had taken her away? Was her kidnapping linked with the case of Mr Ansari? Whether she was set free by her captors on certain conditions or recovered from custody? How her captors had taken her away to the border area?
Ms Shahzadi had gone missing on Aug 19, 2015, when she was taken away by armed men while she was travelling in an auto-rickshaw.
The occurrence took place a few days before she had to appear before COIED in the complaint regarding Mr Ansari.
The most tragic aspect of her kidnapping was that one of her brothers, Saddam, who family members claimed was disturbed due to her disappearance, had committed suicide in March 2016.
Her supporters mostly believe that her abduction had linkage with the case of Mr Ansari.
Mr Ansari, 32, had gone missing after his illegal entry into Pakistan from Afghanistan in Nov 2012 and was subsequently traced in custody of security forces in Jan 2016.
He was a teacher at Mumbai Management College.
He claims that he had left India for Afghanistan on Nov 4, 2012 on a valid tourist visa. He left Jalalabad for Peshawar on Nov 12, 2012 and entered Pakistan with a fake identity card in the name of Hamza sent to him by one of his facebook friends from Karak, with whom he stayed in Karak for two days.
He added that on Nov 14, 2012, his friend left him at a hotel in Kohat following which he was arrested and taken away by officials of an intelligence agency.
For over three years the whereabouts of Mr Ansari could not be traced.
His mother had filed a habeas corpus petition in the high court, which was disposed of on Jan 13, 2016, when it was informed through a written reply by the ministry of defence that Mr Ansari is in military’s custody and being tried by court martial.
Later, a writ petition was filed on behalf of Mr Ansari seeking different reliefs, including fair treatment and protection in the prison and relief under Section 382-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
That petition was disposed of on Nov 1, 2016, by the high court with the observation that providing him benefit of section 382-B CrPC was between the prison and military authorities.
Under the said section, the period of detention of a convict before his conviction is considered in his prison term.
The ministries of defence and foreign affairs, in their joint comments, had stated that the petitioner was involved in espionage/anti- state activities and he was subject to the Pakistan Army Act, therefore, the jurisdiction of high court was ousted in this case.
Mr Ansari and his mother denied the allegations of his involvement in anti-state activities and had claimed that he had befriended on the facebook and became close to a Pakistani girl.
They claimed that he had reached Kohat in an attempt to save this Facebook friend from forced marriage by her family.
In his present petition, Mr Ansari has requested the court to issue appropriate directions to the ministry of defence to amend the jail warrant and substitute the word “anti-state activities” by illegal activities.
He has further prayed to issue directions to the jail authorities to allow the due remission to him with effect from Dec 15, 2015, and work out his date of release after allowing remission.
Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2017