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Saturday Jan 14, 2017

Protest held in UK for missing Pakistani progressive activists

LONDON: Dozens of Pakistani human rights activists gathered outside Pakistan High Commission here under the banner of the Awami Workers Party (AWP), the UK arm of the socialist Pakistani political party, to protest the disappearances of online political activists.

A number of critics and activists have reportedly disappeared across Pakistan and their whereabouts are unknown, despite assurances by Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar that updates about the activists would be released soon.

Those who have disappeared include bloggers, poets, writers, and commentators. All those who have disappeared are known for their progressive and liberal online activism. Out of the missing activists, only the names of four are confirmed: Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, and Ahmed Reza Naseer.

Many of those who attended the protest personally knew some of the missing activists.

Maryam Abbas Jaffer told Geo News that she worked with Salman Haider for over seven years in Islamabad.

"Salman Haider was a kind soul. He stood against dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf and fought for the restoration of democracy and judiciary in Pakistan. He was a kind-hearted brave man who always spoke for the less privileged. His disappearance has shocked us all," she said.

Protesters called on the Pakistani government to find and return home the missing activists and ensure their safety.

Speakers called on Pakistani authorities to respect the fundamental right of freedom of speech and assembly of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.

They said that they were deeply concerned about the disappearances of prominent progressive activists and were unable to ascertain who was behind them, but added that there was a clear pattern in the disappearances of the bloggers.

They said that those missing were known for their anti-militancy activism and openly criticised government policies which suggested that these activists have not randomly disappeared.

A petition was also presented to the Pakistan High Commission which reminded the Pakistani government of its obligations towards protecting the rights of its citizens.

"We believe that these disappearances are a threat to free speech, freedom of expression, and assembly in online spaces in Pakistan.

We would like to ask journalists, human rights activists, scholars, media associations, writers, poets, artists, bloggers and all the concerned voices from around the world to show solidarity and support for 'missing' activists/bloggers who were critical of the establishment's policies and, through their pages and writings, were trying to create a space for progressive and democratic ideas in Pakistan," said the petition.

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