Senior Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan, known for his criticism of the country’s powerful institutions, returned home on Tuesday night hours after he was abducted in Islamabad by unidentified persons. The event has sparked a debate on press freedom in the country, which experts say have received a setback under the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Who is Matiullah Jan?
A veteran journalist, Jan has worked for several major media organisations in the country, and has been fiercely critical of the Pakistani government, security establishment, and judiciary. He currently runs his own YouTube channel.
In 2018, Jan was removed from Waqt Television, where he worked as an anchor, reportedly due to pressure from security agencies. A year before, a brick was hurled at his car while he was driving near Islamabad.
Jan, 51, has long been covering the country’s legal affairs, and was noticed for his spirited reporting of Supreme Court proceedings against Justice Faiz Isa– a fellow judge of the top court known for pronouncing strong judgments against Pakistan’s military establishment.
Justice Isa, who is slated to become Chief Justice of Pakistan in 2023, had been accused in a May 2019 reference by Pakistani President Arif Alvi of “concealing his properties in the United Kingdom allegedly held in the name of his wife and children”– charges that were seen by many as an attempt by the military of stopping Isa from reaching the top judicial office. The apex court quashed the case in June this year.
Last week, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of a tweet by Jan that was critical of the judiciary, and initiated contempt proceedings against him.
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Abduction and release
According to a Dawn report, Jan on Tuesday morning had gone to drop off his wife to her workplace– a school in Islamabad’s Sector G-6. There, he was forcibly removed from his car and thrashed by persons in uniform as well as plainclothes, CCTV footage showed. In the video, which has gone viral, Jan is also seen flinging his cellphone away, only to be brought back by a uniformed man. He was then taken to an undisclosed location, the report said.
This is how journalist Matiullah Jan was picked. Police official is also seen. pic.twitter.com/1fSDCzpahQ
— Inamullah Khattak (@Inamkhattakpak) July 21, 2020
After Jan’s abduction, a tweet from his account, apparently made by his son, read, “Matiullahjan, my father, has been abducted from the heart of the capital Islamabad. I demand he be found and the agencies behind it immediately be held responsible. God keep him safe”.
The news of Jan’s abduction caused a furore, and the Islamabad High Court sent notices to top Pakistani officials to appear in court the next day to explain what had happened, with or without Jan. The court’s Chief Justice called it “a test case for police and the federal government”, and said that the state was “responsible for whatever happened”.
Pakistan’s Information Minister Shibli Faraz expressed concern, as did Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, who called the abduction “very disturbing”. Mazari said that she had spoken to the police chief of Islamabad.
Later that day, Jan was released unharmed outside Islamabad, and could reach his family after being helped by local residents, Dawn reported. Upon his return, Jan tweeted, “I am back home safe and sound. God has been kind to me and my family. I am grateful to friends, the national and international journalist community, political parties, social media and rights activists, lawyers bodies, the judiciary for their quick response which made it possible.”
On Wednesday, Jan told the Supreme Court that his abduction was directly related to the contempt case against him, Naya Daur TV reported.
I am back home safe & sound. God has been kind to me & my family. I am grateful to friends, national & int. journalist community, political parties, social media & rights activists, lawyers bodies, the judiciary for their quick response which made it possible.
— Matiullah Jan (@Matiullahjan919) July 22, 2020
‘Enforced disappearances’ in Pakistan
Critics have denounced “enforced disappearances” in the country, which have been rising around the same time as the Pakistani military has grown more influential, especially since the election of Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2018.
Activists have blamed the ruling government of cracking down on press freedoms, despite the Prime Minister’s claims on the contrary.
According to Freedom Network, a media watchdog in Pakistan, 33 journalists were killed in the country between 2013 and 2019, with no successful conviction to date. On the 2020 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Pakistan stands at 145 among 180 countries, three places behind India.
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