Pakistan Press Freedom Day
Pakistan Press Freedom Day

Pakistani police claimed to have arrested five persons, including a reporter of a daily Urdu-language newspaper, for their alleged involvement in sectarian killings.

At a Monday news conference, DIG-East Amir Farooqi identified the held persons as Syed Matloob Hussain, a reporter of daily Jang, Syed Imran Haider Zaidi, Waqar Raza, Mohammad Abbas and Syed Mohtasham.

He alleged that Matloob was held for receiving training from abroad and downloading a list of personalities from an official website and submitting it to a "foreign handler" for their possible targeted killing at an "appropriate time".

Matloob was recently in the news as his family had claimed he was picked up from his home and several media organizations had shown their concerns over his mysterious disappearance.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported last month that Matloob was abducted from his Karachi home at dawn on 30 March masked men in civilian dress, who came in unmarked vehicles accompanied by three police cars. 

The group had called for an investigation into Matloob's case and that of Aab Takk News TV cameraman Syed Ali Mubashir Naqvi, who also was abducted on April 1. Both are members of the Shia Muslim minority in Pakistan. 

“We have not been told for what crime Matloob was picked up,” his brother, Minhaj, told RSF. “The way he was taken away makes it look as though he was a terrorist but he was not a terrorist.”

Pakistan it one of the worst countries in RSF's global press freedom rankings. At least three journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2018, the group said.

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Purported "anti-state activities"

DIG Farooqi claimed that some of the "missing persons" whose relatives had been protesting outside President Arif Alvi's house in Muhammad Ali Society in Karachi for the past few days were allegedly involved in "anti-state activities."

He cited intelligence agencies and said "links with sectarian killings" and a neighboring country were being "probed".

Police say reporter Matloob Hussain downloaded details of election candidates for his "foreign handler." The officer also claimed some persons shown as "missing" might have gone underground to avoid arrest.

A spokesman for the Shia Missing Persons Relatives Committee rejected the police claims on Monday, maintaining that the suspects shown by police as alleged targeted killers and facilitators had been missing for the past couple of months.

"All of a sudden they were shown in the media with such serious allegations," said spokesman Rashid Rizvi. "The tone and words of authorities, in fact, can fan sectarianism and damage sectarian harmony.

"All these persons who were showed as suspects were picked up from different parts of the city a couple of months ago," Rizvi said. "We have been striving for their release and safe return but unfortunately they are being labeled as criminals and terrorists."

"Enforced disappearances" of journalists and activists are common in Pakistan, according to the country's Human Rights Commission.

Alleged military training

DIG Farooqi said that suspect Syed Imran Haider Zaidi alias Ali allegedly visited a neighboring country in 2015 and 2017 and received 25-day "militancy training" twice, including information gathering, weapons and explosives handling, surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques under the supervision of their "National Guards."

"Imran Zaidi confessed to his involvement in conducting reconnaissance of more than 28 individuals, out of which nine individuals have been targeted including seven by Muhammad alias Chhota group," said the DIG.

Regarding alleged hiring of media persons, the police officer claimed that Imran Zaidi "tasked other members of the group to find out Shia media persons for recruitment and onward training in a neighboring country."

About Muhammad Abbas, the DIG said he was a resident of Jafar Tayyar Society, Malir, who is a "dedicated member of Imran group," received the same training as Imran and also conducted surveillance.

On Waqar Raza alias Wikki, the senior officer said that he was resident of F.B. Area and was an "active member of Piyam-i-Wilayat Scouts". "He used to take along groups of Shia youth to a neighboring country and also remained involved in collection of funds for Piyam-i-Wilayat Scouts." 

Syed Mohtasham, a resident of Hussain Hazara Goth in Gulistan-i-Jauhar, got "militancy training from neighboring country twice in information gathering, weapons and explosives handling, surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques, profiling and preparing individual recce".

"He motivated Matloob alias Owais for joining the group and visiting (the) neighboring country for training," claimed the senior officer.

Account challenged

Rizvi, who is also one of the organizers of the sit-in outside the President's Karachi residence, told Dawn that their talks with Sindh Governor Imran Ismail and Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi late Sunday night did not yield any results.

He said both leaders told them that the government would set up a committee to look into the matter but the relatives of missing persons felt that as in the past, such committees did not produce results.

According to Rizvi, some missing persons have remained missing for the last three to four years and their whereabouts were still unknown. He claimed that out of a total 80 enforced disappearances in the country, 41 hailed from Karachi.