Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday met the family of missing journalist and blogger Mudassar Naaru and ordered officials to submit a "complete report" on his whereabouts, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said.
The premier's meeting with Naaru's parents and his minor son at the Prime Minister's Office came a week after the Islamabad High Court directed Mazari to ensure the meeting took place.
In their conversation, Naaru's parents "gave details of what they had been going through" since their son went missing more than three years ago, the minister, who was present in the meeting, tweeted.
"[The] PM reassured them and immediately issued orders for [a] complete report on Naaru's whereabouts and on exactly what happened," she wrote.
In a statement, Mazari added that "the family felt reassured by the PM, who also said he would ensure the welfare of the young child."
In August 2018, Naaru went on a vacation to the Kaghan valley but disappeared there. He was last spotted near the Kaghan river. Initially, his family and friends thought that he might have accidentally fallen into the river and drowned but his body was never found. Others began speculating that Naaru might have killed himself, a claim instantly rejected by the family, saying he had no signs of despair.
His family registered a first information report against "unidentified persons". When the police refused to cooperate, they were forced to approach civil rights organisations but to no avail. A few months following his disappearance, one of his friends said he had spotted Naaru at a detention centre for ‘missing persons’. That was the last time anyone had heard of him.
In a petition being heard by the IHC seeking the journalist's recovery, it has been asserted that Naaru, who was also a social activist and human rights defender, had been receiving threats allegedly from officials of state institutions before he went missing on August 19, 2018.
In October 2018, his father, the petitioner, approached the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. The initiation of proceedings by the Commission led to the registration of a criminal case i.e. FIR No.208/2018 followed by the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT).
The petitioner stated that he was not kept informed regarding the JIT’s proceedings nor was its report provided to him. From 2018 till the filing of the petition this year, the Commission has reportedly held several meetings/hearings.
According to the JIT, the journalist has gone ‘missing’ on his own.
'Crime against humanity'
While taking up the petition last Wednesday, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had asked Dr Mazari to suggest to the cabinet to consider the proposal of imposing a cost on the respective chief executives in whose tenure the citizen went missing.
“The practice of enforced disappearances has existed in Pakistan over a considerable time. The existence of this phenomenon is intolerable in a society governed under the Constitution,” the court noted.
It further observed that enforced disappearance was “a crime against humanity and one of the most detestable manifestations of violation of fundamental rights”.
Justice Minallah noted that Naaru appeared to have been happily married, as he had taken his wife for a holiday when he went missing. His wife at the time was expecting and she gave birth to a child later. Now the child who is three years old has started attending court proceedings with his grandmother.
“Perusal of the reports submitted by the respondents shows that all the agencies under the control of the federal government i.e. the Military Intelligence, Inter-Services Intelligence, Federal Investigation Agency, etc., have taken the stance that they were neither involved nor have they any information regarding the whereabouts of the Missing Person,” IHC chief justice observed.
The court noted that in case of the phenomenon of enforced disappearances, the buck stops with the federal government i.e. the prime minister and members of the federal cabinet.
The agencies alleged to be involved or complacent in deprivation of a citizen’s liberty without due process were controlled by the prime minister or the federal government and they were, therefore, responsible and ought to be held accountable for their actions, it added.
The court directed the minister for human rights to ensure the parents and child of the missing person met the premier before December 13 and that the matter thereafter be placed before the federal cabinet and the prime minister.
The IHC order stated the prime minister and the federal cabinet “shall direct all the agencies under their control to produce the missing person before this court or trace his whereabouts”.
“In case the missing person is not produced before this court nor his whereabouts are traced, then the federal cabinet shall ascertain the agencies and public functionaries responsible for the failure and inform this court regarding the action taken against them,” the order stated.
It further added that the attorney general would appear and assist the court regarding the “responsibility and liability of the federal government i.e. the worthy prime minister and members of the cabinet” in case the ‘missing’ person remained untraced till the next date of hearing.