Authorities in Pakistan have reported no progress in finding at least four secular activists and bloggers who mysteriously went missing a week ago from different cities, including the national capital of Islamabad.
Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan told reporters Saturday that security and intelligence agencies are “fully focused” on the issue, and making efforts to determine the motives and whereabouts of the missing men as quickly as possible so they could return to their families.
“You all must realize, particularly relatives of the [missing] persons, that when a serious incident like this happens, it takes time to resolve it,” Khan said in response to growing criticism of a lack of progress in the investigations.
The minister would not confirm reports of another blogger allegedly abducted from Islamabad earlier this week.
The apparent abductions took place between January 4 and January 7. No group has since claimed responsibility.
Local and international human rights groups suspect the activists have been taken away either by religious extremists, or personnel of the Pakistani security forces for disseminating views through internet-based social media that are critical of Islamist groups and the government’s counter-extremism policies.
Officials, however, have denied they are holding the men.
The most prominent of them is Salman Haider, a university professor and poet, who went missing in Islamabad on January 6. He is well-known for accusing Pakistan's military of being behind long-running instances of forced disappearances of activists in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
The country’s independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, or HRCP, reiterated its demand Saturday for authorities to rescue the activists without delay, warning of a climate of increased insecurity and fear among bloggers and activists following the alleged abductions.
“Even if any of the missing bloggers are suspected of any wrongdoing, their apprehension in this manner cannot be justified. If such is indeed the case, law must be followed and courts should have a chance to examine the case against them,” said HRCP chair person, Zohra Yusuf.
Three of the bloggers were picked up from in and around the eastern city of Lahore, and they also are well-known for disseminating liberal views and promoting religious freedom through social media. Additionally, rights activists have taken to the streets in Pakistan to press authorities for their early recovery.
“Their near simultaneous disappearance and the government’s shutting down of their websites and blogs raises grave concerns of government involvement,” noted Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog group.
The United States has expressed concern over the disappearances, saying it is taking the issue “very seriously" and "will continue to monitor the situation in Pakistan."