New Delhi: Senior Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan, who was abducted from Islamabad on Tuesday, was released after 12 hours. It is not immediately clear as to who abducted him or why. An Islamabad police spokesperson has told the media that police are already investigating the case.
An after-midnight tweet by journalist Azaz Syed noted that Jan had been released. The Dawn quoted sources as having said that Jan was released by unidentified persons in a deserted area in Fateh Jang, near Islamabad. He is sound and was not tortured during the period of his abduction, the sources said.
— Azaz Syed (@AzazSyed) July 21, 2020
Within minutes of the abduction of the former television anchor, who is known for his critical views against the military establishment of Pakistan, support for him poured on the social media from media practitioners and human rights activists alike.
Multiple videos have surfaced on social media which allegedly showed Jan being taken away. The Pakistan government reportedly took notice of the videos but is yet to confirm any of their veracity.
This is how journalist Matiullah Jan was picked. Police official is also seen. pic.twitter.com/1fSDCzpahQ
— Inamullah Khattak (@Inamkhattakpak) July 21, 2020
The Dawn reported Jan’s wife as having said that he was kidnapped from a school where she teaches, a day ahead of his appearance at Pakistan’s Supreme Court this week after the top court took suo motu notice of a “contemptuous” tweet posted by Jan.
“There were more than five people — some in civilian clothes, others in black uniforms — who forcibly picked up my husband,” AFP quoted Jan’s wife Kaneez Sughra as having said.
She added that just before he was forced into a car, Jan had tried to toss his mobile phone into the premises of the school. The phone, however, landed at the hands of the school’s security guard, who handed it over to the alleged kidnappers.
Security footage also showed that some men forced Jan into a sedan outside the school’s main gate.
Sughra said her husband was being followed by unknown men in the last few weeks. In 2017, an unidentified assailant threw a brick at his car.
Amidst the news of Jan’s disappearance, his son had tweeted to say that his father has been kidnapped and demanded action in the matter.
Matiullahjan, my father, has been abducted from the heart of the capital Islamad. I demand he be foundُ and the agencies behind it immediately be held responsible. God keep him safe.
— Matiullah Jan (@Matiullahjan919) July 21, 2020
Soon, information minister Shibli Faraz had also confirmed his abduction after a cabinet meeting, and assured reporters that the government was already looking into the matter. “We will try to find out where he is and how he can be recovered. This is the responsibility of the government and it will fulfil it,” he said.
Another government official, Shahzad Akbar, who is currently the special assistant to the prime minister on accountability, had termed the abduction “unacceptable”, and said that he had instructed the Islamabad police chief to register an FIR and take immediate action in the case.
Several prominent journalists had also been building pressure on the government to recover Jan.
On a short notice many journalists included senior anchor/journalist @HamidMirPAK and @QayyumReports reached national press club #Islamabad to demand #BringBackMatiullah. Journalists gave call for protest tomorrow outside Parliament House at 4pm Incase #matiullahjan not released. pic.twitter.com/v6o49rzaQ3
— Asad Ali Toor (@AsadAToor) July 21, 2020
— CPJ Asia (@CPJAsia) July 21, 2020
Many also saw Jan’s abduction as the latest instance of a continuing crackdown on pro-democracy journalists and those scribes who have been critical of the establishment.
And also don’t forget, when we whine about why some journalists and writers adopt harsh narratives about the state. @GulBukhari abducted @mazdaki column terminated @shujanawaz book launches cancelled @najamsethi show cancelled @javeednusrat show cancelled
— Mosharraf Zaidi (@mosharrafzaidi) July 21, 2020
Jan has been critical of the military establishment and has had to face backlash for his outspoken commentary, reports say. He was removed from his position at Waqt TV last year shortly before the station was shut. He had claimed then that he was forced out of his job by the military because of his critical reports against its interference in politics.
Jan, a Chevening scholar, earlier hosted an investigative talk show on Waqt TV and also featured on a DawnNewsTV programme. He also wrote columns on socio-political issues on multiple news outlets including The Nation, an English daily, and the Urdu paper, Nawaiwaqt.
The 50-year-old was among the 3,000 media practitioners to have been laid off in 2019, a development many commentators had termed as a crackdown that began in the run-up to the general elections in which Imran Khan came to power. Among countries which have a poor record in press freedom, Pakistan has routinely ranked among one of the most dangerous for journalists. Reports of them getting detained, beaten and killed over their critical views are regular.
Despite such circumstances, Jan has been an outspoken critic and has remained steadfastly pro-democracy. After he lost his job, he took to the internet to produce shows, mostly satirical, which highlighted the problems in his country. Earlier this morning, he had tweeted yet another critical post.
This is for the attention of those who sit in the simulated air conditioned environment of rule of law in Pakistan and who think criticism on them is a bigger crime than the violation of the inviolable dignity of a human being. https://t.co/gZIPj7ue4e
— Matiullah Jan (@Matiullahjan919) July 21, 2020
“We don’t have to play with words to say that the military establishment was proactive in getting rid of pro-democracy journalists,” Jan had told Reuters for a story the agency did on the rise of critical videos which Pakistan-based journalists produced on the internet.
Reuters reported one of his videos as thus:
“In his video, “Boot Talk”, a play on a slang term used for the army, the sandal talks in the voice of the prime minister, meekly seeking orders from the military, who insist nonetheless that they are not interfering.
“It might be your decision, we don’t mind,” says the boot, as the two discuss exiling Khan’s predecessor Nawaz Sharif, who fell out with the military and is currently serving a 10-year jail sentence for corruption.
When the sandal voices fears that their joint efforts might go in vain, the boot laughs: “You might lose, we will never.”
Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights, PPP’s Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, tweeted that the Islamabad inspector general of police had been summoned to brief the committee with regards to Jan’s abduction.
As a matter of grave urgency and unquestionable importance, IG Islamabad has been asked to brief the Human Rights committee tomorrow on abduction/disappearance of renowned journalist Matiullah Jan pic.twitter.com/Dxgg8EVMSm
— Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar (@Mustafa_PPP) July 21, 2020
Human rights minister Shireen Mazari also termed his abduction “very disturbing”.
Opposition members like PML-N president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Mohsin Dawar and several others took to Twitter to express their outrage against Jan’s abduction.
Note: This article has been updated to reflect Jan’s release.