Journalist released after outcry over abduction

Updated 22 Jul 2020

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Matiullah Jan was abducted in front of Government Girls School. — Facebook/File
Matiullah Jan was abducted in front of Government Girls School. — Facebook/File

ISLAMABAD: Senior journalist Matiullah Jan was released in the late hours of Tuesday after a widespread outcry over his abduction by nearly half a dozen plainclothes and uniformed men from outside a government school in broad daylight in the federal capital.

The ‘forced abduction’, which was caught on CCTV cameras, not only enraged journalist community and rights organisations but also triggered serious security concerns among legal fraternity, political parties and diplomatic circles.

The journalist had already been in the limelight due to the contempt proceeding against him in the Supreme Court for his alleged ‘contemptuous’ tweet regarding Justice Isa case decision.

CCTV footage of the abduction shows that it was around 11.10am when men in uniform and plainclothes forcibly removed Mr Jan from his car and thrashed him in front of Government Girls School, situated in Islamabad’s sector G-6/1-3, where his spouse works as teacher. It can be seen in the footage, which later went viral on social media, that the journalist was being manhandled and dragged towards their vehicles when he threw his mobile phone into the school while a uniformed man immediately collected it from a woman at the school. The journalist was then whisked away to an undisclosed location.

His brother, Shahid Akbar Abbasi, later lodged an FIR against the unidentified persons under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code and also filed a habeas corpus petition through Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon before the Islamabad High Court. In his petition, Mr Abbasi said his brother, who was a known critic of government and establishment, was forcibly picked up by unknown persons in broad daylight.

While “keeping in view the gravity of the matter and its implication in the context of constitutionally guaranteed rights of the citizen”, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah entertained the petition and directed the interior secretary, chief commissioner and inspector general of Islamabad to trace the ‘missing’ journalist by Wednesday or face music.

“In case brother of the petitioner namely Matiullah Jan is not traced then the aforementioned public functionaries shall appear in person at 10am on July 22, 2020 in order to explain why person responsible for letting such an alleged incident to happen in the capital of Pakistan may not be ordered to be proceeded against,” warned Justice Minallah, while directing the registrar office to send the copies of the court order to the chief commissioner, inspector general of Islamabad and interior secretary.

The Supreme Court is also scheduled to take up the case related to the alleged contemptuous tweet of the senior journalist on Wednesday (today). About his ‘enforced disappearance’, the Press Association of the Supreme Court also wrote a letter to Chief Justice of Pakistan.

Widespread reaction

Political parties, lawyers, journalists groups, human rights organisations and diplomats expressed their concern over the incident and safety of journalists in the country.

Also read: Pakistan ranks 145 on press freedom index

Justice Qazi Faez Isa along with his wife went to Mr Jan’s house to offer their support and express concern over his abduction. They met his two brothers and a sister in law, who then took them to another brother’s house where his wife and children were staying.

While Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari demanded that the government ensure his safe return soon. The matter was also taken up in the National Assembly where opposition parties and the journalists covering the NA proceedings staged a walkout from the house. Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri sent Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs to woo the reporters, but he failed to do so as the reporters announced that they would continue to boycott the session till the time the government did not disclose Mr Jan’s whereabouts and identify those responsible for it.

Showing helplessness, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan asked the deputy speaker to seek a response from Minister for Interior Brig (retd) Ejaz Shah over the incident.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the chairman of Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, called an emergency meeting of the committee on Wednesday (today) to discuss the matter.

At the outset of the NA sitting, PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar drew the attention of the house towards the “abduction” of Matiullah Jan amid “shame, shame” slogans.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif warned that if anything happened to Mr Jan, the prime minister and the present government would be held responsible.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman said Mr Jan had been abducted not by a non-state actor. He was a well-known senior journalist and no FIR had been registered against him. “Every dictator thinks that whatever he has done is in the interest of the state,” the Maulana added.

Former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani strongly condemned the kidnapping. He said this was a crude attempt to curb the constitutional right of democratic descent. He termed it an attack on the freedom of the press. He said these tactics were pursued in fascism.

Pakistan Bar Council, the apex forum of the lawyers, said that Mr Jan was being punished for his constant vocal stance on different important national issues which is never liked by the government and its agencies.

Demanding the authorities concerned for immediate release of Mr Jan, the PBC said that his abduction was a blatant attack on the right and freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, expressed outrage over the apparent kidnapping of Mr Jan.

“We fear that Matiullah Jan’s life is in danger, and immediate steps must be taken to locate him and ensure his release from his apparent kidnappers,” IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Given the history of violence against journalists in Pakistan, the authorities cannot delay in seeking to protect Jan’s safety.”

Diplomats

In her tweet, Canada’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Wendy Gilmour stated: “Very worrying development: the role of the media in a democracy is crucial, and must be protected. I trust that @Matiullahjan919 will be soon safely reunited with his family.”

Also, German Ambassador to Pakistan Bernhard Schlagheck tweeted: “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.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) demanded that the federal government take immediate measures for the release of Mr Jan. The HRCP also endorsed the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) demand that the federal government take immediate measures for his release.

PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi expressed serious concern over his disappearance from Islamabad. The PFUJ said: “This has become a norm in the country to suppress voices of dissent for controlling media, imposing censorship and denying freedom of speech and expression in the country.”

The Karachi Union of Journalists KUJ, Awami Workers Party, Sindh Bar Council (SBC) and many other civil society organisations also condemned the abduction.

SBC vice chairman Haider Imam Rizvi stated the abduction of the journalist, a day before his appearance before the Supreme Court to justify his twitter comments given in relation to the Justice Isa case, was clearly meant to send a message to the media in general and court reporters in particular. He called upon the prime minister to ensure the safe return of abducted journalist and also asked the Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed to take suo motu notice of this matter.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2020