A prominent Pakistani journalist has been abducted in broad daylight after criticising the country’s Supreme Court, his family says.
CCTV footage has been widely shared that appears to show the moment Matiullah Jan was pulled out of his car outside a school in Islamabad on Tuesday.
Mr Jan’s wife Kaneez Sughra told The Independent she had found her husband’s car with the windows rolled down and his keys and mobile phone inside.
She said Mr Jan dropped her off at the school where she works at around 10am, which was the last time she saw him. “He was to pick me up at 12.30 pm but he didn’t turn up,” she says.
Ms Sughra was later informed by school guards that her husband’s car was parked outside the school, but she didn’t believe them. “I knew that Matiullah would have called me if he was waiting outside. However, after a while I went outside to check and saw the car parked a little distance from the school’s main gate.” She immediately called the police.
The duty officer of the local police station, Nasrullah, told The Independent that the police had recorded Ms Sughra’s statement and that senior police officials were at Mr Jan’s residence.
In the school’s CCTV footage, two cars can be seen arriving outside the school. The cars stop in the middle of the road and people can be seen getting out of the cars. In one video, a man wearing plainclothes gets out of the car from the front passenger seat while an armed, uniformed man rushes towards Jan’s car.
Mr Jan is then being pulled out of his car and pushed inside another vehicle while trying to resist. At one point he appears to throw his mobile phone inside the school premises. Later a woman can be seen handing the phone to a uniformed officer.
Local police station officials told The Independent that the officers seen in the CCTV footage were wearing “anti-terrorism force” uniform, rather than that of any local law enforcement body.
Mr Jan had been due to appear in the Supreme Court on Wednesday for a hearing in a case of contempt of court, brought about after he posted a tweet criticising Supreme Court judges.
Several hours after his abduction, a tweet was posted from his account saying: “Matiullah Jan, my father, has been abducted from the heart of the capital Islamabad. I demand he be found and the agencies behind it immediately be held responsible. God keep him safe.”
Among a flood of reactions from rights groups and politicians, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded the government “immediately ensure the safe recovery of Matiullah Jan” in a tweet.
Amnesty International South Asia called for authorities to “establish [Jan’s] whereabouts immediately”.
In a tweet, the international human rights organisation said: “We are extremely concerned for the fate and wellbeing of @matiullahjan919. He has been the subject of physical attacks and harassment for his journalism.”
Umar Cheema, a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network, was also abducted in 2010 and said he was tortured by those who detained him. He told The Independent that he was also abducted by “policemen wearing commando uniform”.
“I was picked up at 3am and blindfolded and taken somewhere. I was tortured and released after seven to eight hours. I was hoping that the abductors were from the police force as they could be held accountable. But obviously not.”
He said Mr Jan’s family were likewise “hoping against hope” that his abductors were members of a local police force.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the historically vibrant Pakistani media has become a priority target for the country’s so-called “deep state”, a term used to denote the powerful military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and their manoeuvres to subjugate the civilian executive. The influence of the military establishment has increased significantly since former cricketer Imran Khan – its preferred candidate in the election – became prime minister in July 2018.
According to RSF, Pakistan slid three places to 145th in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.