Rights groups urge Pakistan to probe abductions of activists

ISLAMABAD: International and local rights groups on Tuesday urged the Pakistani government to investigate the abductions last week of four anti-Taliban activists — disappearances that critics claim reflect a crackdown on secular dissent.

Human Rights Watch said that in their work and writings, the four men had criticized militant groups and the Pakistani military establishment, and often spoke up for religious freedoms.

The four, including a poet and university professor, were snatched from various Pakistani cities, the New York-based group said, adding it would hold the government responsible if any harm comes to them.

No militant group has claimed abducting them and authorities have not said any of the four were arrested or detained.

Kamila Hayat, a former official with Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission, said the disappearances were part of efforts to curb dissent. "We allow orthodox ideas to be freely aired ... but we're closing down space for liberal and dissenting voices," she said.

The Interior Ministry has ordered the police to find one of the four — the professor, Salman Haider — but hasn't mentioned the others.

Rights groups and relatives held rallies in Pakistani cities on Monday and Tuesday, demanding information about the four.

Along with Haider, the other three — Ahmad Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed and Ahmad Raza Naseer — have written blogs and ran social media pages critical of sectarianism and Pakistan's security policies, at great personal risk. Pakistan is ranked among the worst places in the world in terms of religious freedom.

Goraya studied anthropology and lived in the Netherlands. He was visiting family in Pakistan when he disappeared, his wife Mesha Saeed said.

"I don't know what could have been so threatening for the people who took him away," she said.