‘Orwellian doublespeak’: Journalists, rights activists call out Marriyum Aurangzeb for remarks on Imran Riaz’s disappearance

Following backlash, the minister claims she did not justify enforced disappearances and had categorically condemned the issue of missing persons.
Published May 23, 2023

Journalists and human rights activists have strongly criticised Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb’s comments regarding the case of anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan, who has been missing for more than a week after his arrest.

Riaz was among those apprehended in the wake of the protests that erupted following the arrest of PTI Chairman Imran Khan. Later, his lawyer had told Dawn.com that a writ petition was filed on May 12 over the anchorperson’s arrest and the Lahore High Court had directed the attorney general to present the anchor before the court the same day. But, after its orders were not followed, Sialkot police were given a 48-hour deadline to recover Riaz.

A day ago, Punjab Inspector General Dr Usman Anwar revealed there was no trace of the journalist at any police department across the country.

Separately, journalist Secunder Kermani, a Channel4 News foreign correspondent, had shared a video of an exchange with the information minister about the missing anchorperson.

He questioned Aurangzeb about journalists going missing and being detained, adding that these were the same issues that the PML-N had raised as matters of concern when in opposition during the previous PTI government.

In response, Aurangzeb asked Kermani to name even a single journalist who was missing. When Kermani mentioned Riaz, the minister responded, “Imran Riaz is a political party spokesperson now. You really have to draw [a] distinction.”

She further said, “You have to differentiate between journalists and the journalists who have joined political parties. Once they have joined political parties, they are inciting violence, they are spokespersons of that political parties.”

In a brief back and forth between the two, Aurangzeb mentioned former prime minister Imran being termed a “media predator” during his tenure and asserted that press freedom in Pakistan had improved by “seven points” during the past year.

When asked again about the issue of a person being missing despite his political leanings, she said she condemned anyone being missing, whether it was herself or Riaz.

Aurangzeb’s response elicited severe criticism from several journalists and rights activists, who reminded the minister that a person’s disappearance was an issue of basic human rights irrespective of what political party they favoured.

Lawyer and social activist Jibran Nasir said that Aurangzeb believed Riaz “should be seen as a supporter of PTI and hence considered a sub-human who deserves the treatment being meted out to them.

“Now just imagine the plight of ordinary citizens suffering military trials,” he added.

Pakistan Initiative at Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre Director Uzair Younus said Riaz’s status as a journalist or not should not matter.

He said that Riaz had fundamental constitutional rights granted to him on account of his Pakistani citizenship.

“Stop violating his rights and those of countless others. These disappearances are heinous!” he tweeted.

Senior anchorperson Maria Memon pointed out the lack of an “honest answer”.

Journalist Roohan Ahmed tweeted: “It doesn’t matter if Imran Riaz Khan is a journalist or a ‘propagandist’, as Information Minister Aurangzeb calls him. What matters is that a Pakistani citizen is missing and being denied the right to defend himself in the court of law.”

Journalist Mehreen Zahra Malik called the information minister’s response “Orwellian doublespeak”, adding that it was “unacceptable” and that the government must answer for the missing anchor’s whereabouts.

Senior journalist Raza Ahmad Rumi commented that Riaz’s status as a journalist or party activist did not matter and that his being denied due process was a violation of the law.

Researcher Abdul Basit analysed much the same, saying that “under no circumstances you can arrest a person extrajudicially and refuse to produce him before a court of law. This is an affront against democracy and the rule of law.”

Journalist Murtaza Solangi, while expressing his differences with Riaz, also said: “A human being, a Pakistani citizen is missing and that is and should be a cause of concern. Regardless of the circumstances of his disappearance, it is the job of the state to find him and tell the people about the circumstances of his disappearance. Period.”

Meanwhile, journalist Matiullah Jan — who was himself abducted in Islamabad in July 2020 — said it was a “disappointing response” from a politician and spokesperson of the government, adding that it was “shameful to justify a possible enforced disappearance on the basis of someone not being a journalist.”

His harsh rebuke prompted a reply from the information minister who said she had not justified enforced disappearances and had condemned them.

“I have categorically stated that if a person is missing, any person, whether that person is me or Imran Riaz, I condemn that,” she said.