ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN —
Four of the five Pakistani rights campaigners and bloggers, who mysteriously disappeared from several cities earlier this month, have returned home.
Police, relatives and sources confirmed Saturday that noted rights defender Salman Haider rejoined his family.
“He is fine and safe,” said family members who refused to offer further comments on his whereabouts and the motive for his kidnapping.
Haider, a progressive poet and university lecturer, was on his way home late on January 6 when unknown men intercepted his car just outside the national capital of Islamabad and took him away.
Three other missing activists, Ahmed Raza Naseer, Asim Sayeed and Waqas Goraya, have also been freed and rejoined their families. They were also abducted from in and around the eastern city of Lahore within the first week of January.
Family members were not immediately available to discuss the development and authorities have yet to confirm the reported release of the three men.
The release of Haider after several weeks in mysterious circumstances raises more questions than it answers, say civil society activists in Pakistan. “Now that he has been released, and we do not know what has happened to him, he needs protection”, Gibran Nasir, a prominent civil society activist tells VOA's Deewa language service.
It was not immediately known who was behind the kidnappings, or what their motives were.
The whereabouts of a fifth missing activist, Samar Abbas, remained unknown.
Human rights activists hold a picture of Salman Haider, who was missing at the time, during a protest to condemn the disappearances of social activists in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 19, 2017.
Intel agencies suspected
The near simultaneous abductions prompted nationwide protests by Pakistani rights groups and media criticism of the government, demanding authorities immediately locate the men. They suspected state intelligence agencies were behind the kidnappings.
The federal interior minister repeatedly rejected the assertions and promised police would soon determine their whereabouts.
However, since their abduction three weeks ago, some Pakistani talk show hosts and postings on social media accused the five men of committing blasphemy through their blogs and writings.
Families and rights groups strongly denied the blasphemy allegations and insisted the men were kidnapped for promoting liberal views and criticism of Pakistan’s powerful military.
“The allegations of blasphemy against the "missing" activists and bloggers have put their lives in grave danger of vigilante killings after their return from their mysterious disappearance and captivity,” a leading human rights activist told VOA.
She refused to be identified, saying the atmosphere and environment is so fearsome in Pakistan that most people who have any information or views on this case are afraid to speak on the record.
While insulting Islam or The Prophet Muhammad carries the death penalty in Pakistan, even mere charges of blasphemy have provoked extrajudicial mob killings of suspects by religious fanatics.
Security institutions in Pakistan have long been accused by rights groups of being behind forced disappearances of people in southwestern Baluchistan province where ethnic Baluch separatists are waging a low-level insurgency.
Officials have denied the allegations but ironically, judicial interventions in recent years have led to freedom for hundreds of Pakistanis from illegal detention.