Senior journalist Matiullah Jan returned home late on Tuesday night, nearly 12 hours after he was abducted from Islamabad's Sector G-6 in broad daylight, family sources said.
They added that Jan was released by unidentified persons in a deserted area in Fateh Jang, outside the capital. He is sound and was not tortured during the period of his abduction, the sources said.
Geo News quoted Jan as saying after his return that he was blindfolded and taken to an unknown location after his kidnapping. He was then driven around the city before being released in Fateh Jang, where some residents helped him reach his family.
Speaking to Dawn.com earlier in the day, Jan’s wife had said that his car was found parked outside a school in Sector G-6 of the capital with one of his mobile phones inside the vehicle.
Jan, a freelancer who has worked for numerous local and foreign media outlets, was due to appear in the Supreme Court this week after it took suo motu notice of an alleged contemptuous tweet by the journalist.
“There were more than five people — some in civilian clothes, others in black uniforms — who forcibly picked up my husband,” Kaneez Sughra told AFP in a phone interview.
Security footage captured by the school where Sughra teaches showed several men force Jan into a sedan outside the main gate.
The footage showed Jan toss a mobile phone over the school fence, only for a school security guard to hand it back to a man in uniform.
An Islamabad police spokesman said at the time that officers had begun gathering information in the case.
Sughra said her husband had been followed by unknown men in recent weeks. In 2017, an unidentified assailant threw a brick at his car.
As the news of his disappearance drew the attention of journalists and international rights bodies, a tweet was posted on Matiullah Jan's account at 3:17pm — purportedly by his son — which read: "Matiullahjan, my father, has been abducted from the heart of the capital [Islamabad]. I demand he be found and the agencies behind it immediately be held responsible. God keep him safe."
Meanwhile, Information Minister Shibli Faraz also confirmed the journalist’s abduction during a post-cabinet meeting presser later in the evening. “This much is established that he [Jan] has been kidnapped,” said Faraz. “We will try to find out where he is and how he can be recovered. This is the responsibility of the government and it will fulfil it,” he added.
Terming the development as "unacceptable", Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar said he had spoken with the Islamabad police chief and instructed him to take "immediate action for retrieval and registration of FIR".
Earlier in the day, CCTV footages purportedly showing his alleged abduction surfaced on social media, which showed several armed men exiting at least three vehicles. The footages were shared by several journalists on social media, however, police have yet to comment on their veracity.
Soon after, the chairperson of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights, PPP’s Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, tweeted that the Islamabad inspector general of police had been summoned to brief the committee with regards to Jan’s abduction.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted around 5:30pm that she had been "just informed about [Jan's] kidnapping".
She said she had taken notice of the "very disturbing" development and spoken to the Islamabad inspector general who informed her that "they are looking into it".
Jan had tweeted a video of a journalist's interview earlier in the day. "This is for the attention of those who sit in the simulated air conditioned environment of rule of law in Pakistan and who think criticism on them is a bigger crime than the violation of the inviolable dignity of a human being," he wrote on Twitter at 11:05am this morning.
Pakistan routinely ranks among the world's most dangerous countries for media workers, and reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed over their critical views.
Politicians express alarm
Five hashtags regarding Jan's disappearance were trending on Twitter in Pakistan after the news emerged.
PML-N president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif termed Jan's disappearance as "highly condemnable and [a] matter of deep concern".
"The government's campaign to muzzle the media & critical voices is simply shameful. If something happens to Matiullah, PM will be held responsible," he tweeted.
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in a tweet said he was "extremely concerned" at the news of Jan's abduction.
"The selected government must immediately [ensure] his safe return. This is not only an attack on media freedoms & democracy but on all of us. Today it is Matiullah, tomorrow it could be you or I," he wrote.
Speaking at a press conference, senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif said his party condemned Jan's disappearance.
"Matiullah has talked about media and journalism. He had an SC hearing tomorrow ... to take him into custody now is an attempt to silence him and his journalism," Asif said, adding that his party will raise voice for freedom of speech for all inside and outside the parliament.
"If someone speaks against the government and is made a target, we will join their voice and the protest," the MNA continued, saying "the manner in which journalists have been silenced" in the country in the last two years and before that "does not happen in civilised societies".
MNA Mohsin Dawar also "strongly condemned" Jan's disappearance and demanded his "safe recovery".
Former senator Afrasiab Khattak said that the journalist's "enforced disappearance in Islamabad under the very nose of Parliament, Supreme Court and media is a serious affront". He added that the parliamentarians, judges and journalists could "protest on Constitution Avenue if nothing else".
Anchorperson Najam Sethi started a petition on Change.org calling for Jan's "immediate release".
German Ambassador to Pakistan Bernhard Schlagheck also took to Twitter to voice concern over the incident. "Concerned to hear the news about the disappearance of @Matiullahjan919 today. Developments underline once again how dangerous the situation of journalists in #Pakistan is. Journalists' safety is key for media freedom," he tweeted.
Who is Matiullah Jan?
Matiullah Jan is a journalist, communication trainer and a media law expert who also manages a personal Youtube channel by the name of MJtv.
The former host of an investigative talk show on Waqt TV and a DawnNewsTV programme, Jan served as a special correspondent for the Supreme Court and legal affairs, according to his LinkedIn profile.
He has also written columns for daily The Nation and Urdu daily Nawaiwaqt on national socio-political issues. He ia a Chevening scholar and holds a Masters in International Journalism from City, University of London, as well as a Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Jan underwent three and a half years of military training as a cadet in the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, according to his profile.
He has worked with a number of media outlets and broadcasters including Radio Pakistan, The Frontier, NNI, PTV, Reuters TV and DawnNewsTV.