Pakistani activist abduction sparks fear of crackdown on dissent

By Asad
Hashim, Al Jazeera, june 6, 2018

journalist Gul Bukhari, who has openly criticised the military, was briefly
abducted by masked men in Lahore.
Bukhari was abducted by several unidentified men while she was on her way to a
news television [LinKedin]

The brief
abduction of a prominent Pakistani social activist and newspaper columnist
known for her strident criticism of the country’s powerful military has raised
fears of a renewed crackdown on dissent in the South Asian country.

Bukhari, 52, was abducted by several unidentified men while she was on her way
to a television news studio in the eastern city of Lahore on Tuesday night, a
family member told Al Jazeera.
hours later, she was released, they confirmed, although they did not provide
any details regarding the attack.
abduction has heightened fears among activists and journalists, coming as it
does in the wake of widespread censorship of news considered critical of the
military and certain political parties, and prompted concern that a new wave of
intimidation is imminent.
who is a vocal critic of the military and its alleged role in censoring
Pakistan’s media and involving itself in political processes, was abducted a
day after the military warned that it was monitoring social media activity for
“anti-state, anti-Pakistan and anti-army” material.
do have the capability to monitor social media, to see who is doing what,”
said Major-General Asif Ghafoor, the military’s spokesperson, on Monday.
In a
separate incident on Tuesday, journalist Asad Kharal was also assaulted in
Lahore by “some persons wearing masks,” he said.
ranks 139 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, and attacks
against journalists and other media professionals – particularly those deemed
critical of the state – are common.
last year, the state has carried out a sustained campaign targeting those
critical of the military – which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its
70-year history – on social media, an Al Jazeera
investigation found
‘There is
no stopping them’
attack on Bukhari comes as the distribution of Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest and
most respected daily newspaper, was disrupted in several areas across the
country, a source told Al Jazeera, allegedly over its publication of an
interview with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that implied
military complicity
in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. 
In April,
the Geo News television station, one of the country’s most popular news
networks, came back on air after weeks of being blocked by cable operators,
also allegedly
at the behest of the military.
Geo was
allowed to resume transmissions only after it agreed to a deal with the
military to change its editorial stance on certain political issues, two
officials at the channel told the Reuters news agency.
this year, several newspaper columnists were told that their regular op-ed
columns, most on the subject of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) rights
group, would not be published. The PTM has held countrywide rallies against
alleged rights abuses by the military in the country’s northwest since January.
appears that those behind this abduction want to send a message to the rest of
Pakistan and the world that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want,
to dissenters, and that there is no stopping them,” said Taha Siddiqui, a
journalist who was forced to
flee the country
after a similar abduction attempt in January
Pakistan army cannot tolerate dissent, and they have managed to control the
mainstream Pakistani media. Now they are desperately trying to do the same with
social media.”
now runs SAFE Newsrooms a
whistleblowing website that encourages South Asian journalists to report
censorship within their newsrooms anonymously. The site was blocked by the
Pakistani government within weeks of being launched.
military denies that it has issued any directives to media organisations to
control their coverage, inviting news organisations to report on the alleged
censorship if it has taken place.
I have spoken to [media owners and journalists], I have said the same thing:
right now Pakistan needs to unite, to present its successes and build on
them,” said General Ghafoor on Monday. “That is what I told them we
need to do, and that is what they have done.”