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Missing Pakistani activist home ‘safe’

Islamabad: A Pakistani activist who went missing early this month is home safe, his family and police said Saturday, more than two weeks after the disappearance of him and four others sparked protests and fears of a crackdown.

Academic Salman Haider is “safe and fine”, a family member told AFP, confirming comments from police.

Haider along with liberal activists Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, and Ahmad Raza Naseer — who campaigned for human rights and religious freedom — went missing from various cities between January 4 and 7, triggering nationwide protests.

A fifth activist, Samar Abbas, also disappeared a few days later. No group has claimed responsibility and the whereabouts of the other four are still unknown.

Human Rights Watch said their near simultaneous disappearances raised concerns of government involvement, which officials and intelligence sources have denied.

Pakistan has had a history of enforced disappearances over the past decade, but they have mainly been confined to conflict zones near the Afghanistan border or to Balochistan province where separatists are battling for independence.

A virulent social media campaign painting the missing as blasphemers triggered a flood of threats despite denials from their worried families, with observers saying the claims could place them in danger.

The charge, which can carry the death penalty, is hugely sensitive in deeply conservative Muslim Pakistan, where even unproven allegations have stirred mob lynchings and murder.

Rights groups say Pakistani activists and journalists often find themselves caught between the country’s security establishment and militant groups including the Taliban.

Pakistan is routinely ranked among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, and reporting critical of security policies controlled by the powerful military is considered a major red flag, with reporters at times detained, beaten and even killed.

Agence France-Presse