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Pakistani Senate to Question Recovered Missing Persons About Disappearances

Pakistan’s Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights announced Thursday that it would talk to recovered missing persons to inquire about the circumstances under which they went missing.

Nasreen Jalil, chairman of the Senate committee, told VOA’s Urdu service that the recovered missing persons will be summoned in three weeks to participate in an on-camera question-and-answer session.

“The committee has suggested that recovered persons should tell on-camera what they went through. Hopefully, it will lead us to information to help determine the forces behind these abductions,” Jalil said.

She said that in Pakistan, people disappear “only to re-appear afterwards, but no one talks about what happens during the time they remained missing.”

The Senate group was briefed about the missing persons’ situation in the volatile Balochistan province. Provincial official Hameedul Nasir said 136 people currently are missing in Balochistan. He said 104 missing persons were recovered in the province, but none of them were willing to cooperate with the authorities about their abductions.

The Senate’s human rights committee has indicated that once it records the statements of the recovered persons, it will summon the country’s intelligence agencies and question them to explain their involvement in the cases.

Intelligence agencies suspected

Forced disappearances remain a major and continued challenge in Pakistan, where civil rights activists and international rights organizations repeatedly have called upon the Pakistani authorities to determine and hold accountable elements behind the enforced disappearances.

FILE - Human rights activists chant slogans during a protest to condemn the disappearances of social activists in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 19, 2017.
FILE – Human rights activists chant slogans during a protest to condemn the disappearances of social activists in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 19, 2017.

Pakistan’s rights defenders, politicians and lawmakers maintain the enforced disappearances are unconstitutional. Many critics do not hesitate to point at the state intelligence agencies and their alleged involvement in the disappearances.

Farhat Ullah Babar, a prominent lawmaker who belongs to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan’s People Party, told VOA: “The nation knows who the culprit here is. It is about time we take those names aloud and make them public.”

Cases on the rise

According to recent statistics submitted to Pakistan’s Supreme Court by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, about 1,498 cases of enforced disappearances remain pending with the government.

Most of the missing persons belong to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan’s province along the Afghan border, where 837 cases were registered. Punjab had 237 cases, Sindh and Balochistan had 136 cases, and FATA, the federally administered tribal areas, had 63 registered cases of missing persons.

A recent Human Rights Watch report says that despite the concerns of rights activists, the forced disappearances continue at an alarming speed. From August to October 2017, more than 300 complaints of enforced disappearance were registered.

The report further noted it is “one of the largest number of cases received in any three-month period since 2011.”

Mehdi Hasan, the current chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan — an independent rights watchdog — criticizes the Pakistani authorities’ role and its silence on the matter, and believes the enforced disappearances are directly linked to the state agencies.

“Those who are recovered are tight-lipped and will not, under any circumstances, take the names of those who are behind these mysterious abductions,” Hasan told VOA.

Hasan fears no one will have the “courage to explain who abducted them and what happened to them during the time they went missing.”

High-profile disappearances

The Senate committee’s decision has come at a time when the disappearance of social activist Raza Khan from Lahore has made news worldwide, and Pakistan’s rights activists are running a social media campaign to recover him.

Earlier this year, five liberal bloggers and social media activists went missing only to re-appear after a few weeks under mysterious circumstances.

The bloggers were charged with committing blasphemy during the time they were missing and had to flee the country once they were recovered.

Aasim Saeed and Waqas Goraya, two of the abducted bloggers, later blamed their abduction on the military and state’s intelligence agencies.

Pakistani government and the military deny any involvement in the disappearances.

Muhammad Jalil, of VOA Urdu also contributed to this report.

This story was originally posted on VOA News (Extremism Watch Desk).

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