Pakistan dispatch: forced disappearance of Kashmiri poet and journalist prompts condemnation from rights groups and outrage from judiciary Dispatches
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Pakistan dispatch: forced disappearance of Kashmiri poet and journalist prompts condemnation from rights groups and outrage from judiciary

Law students and law graduates in Pakistan are reporting for JURIST on events in that country impacting its legal system. Rabia Shuja holds an LLM in International Human Rights Law from Griffith College, Dublin and is Chief Correspondent for JURIST in Pakistan. She reports from Islamabad.

“He thinks for himself, He must be seized”

These are the words of renowned Kashmiri poet and freelance journalist, Ahmad Farhad, who was forcibly disappeared from outside his home in Islamabad last week. Hours after his abduction, his family petitioned the Islamabad High Court (IHC), claiming that he had been abducted by the country’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency for being a staunch critic of the military establishment.

Ahmad Farhad utilized his poetic prowess and journalistic abilities to bring attention to the military establishment’s rampant abuse of power. His wife Syeda Urooj Zainab, claimed that Ahmad had been under immense pressure for the past few months from security agencies for opposing the arbitrary arrest and subsequent imprisonment of PTI officials and for his coverage of the recent protests in Kashmir.

Numerous human rights organizations, including The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, have condemned Ahmad’s disappearance. The more unusual response however, has come from the country’s judiciary. Senior puisne judge Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani not only acknowledged the State institution’s failure to protect individuals from enforced disappearances, but took the military establishment head on. In hearings on Farhad’s abduction, Justice Kayani made scathing remarks against the country’s civil and military apparatus, asserting that the State’s actions amounted to an abuse of authority. He warned officials that failure to promptly recover Ahmad Farhad would result in the court summoning top civil and military officials.  He said:

“I am summoning the ISI sector commander [for Islamabad] and defense secretary in a personal capacity. If the secretary cannot ensure the recovery then I will summon ministers, and then the prime minister.”

True to his word, this past Friday the IHC summoned top government and military officials, including the Sector Commanders of the ISI, and Military Intelligence, the Director Intelligence Bureau (IB) as well as Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar and the national secretaries of defense and interior to appear in person before the court at the hearing scheduled for Wednesday, the 29th of May.

At last Friday’s hearing, Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan appeared before the court, and informed Justice Kayani that law enforcement were utilizing the few call detail records that were available to trace Ahmad. In response, Justice Kayani asked the AGP if he was admitting that the State had failed. The AGP rejected the notion that the State had failed and requested that the government be granted a few more days to recover the victim; assuring the court that law enforcement agencies would be able to find Ahmad within the given timeframe. The judge reiterated his stance and stated “To recover [the missing person] is the State’s compulsion, otherwise it would be its failure.”

In a written order following Friday’s hearing, Justice Kayani ordered the authorities concerned to recover Ahmad and submit a report to the IHC registrar if he were produced before May 29th. The order also stated that Justice Kayani was informed by senior journalist Hamid Mir about the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMRA) gag order, banning live coverage of court proceedings. Despite PEMRA’s effort to restrict reporting on court proceedings, Justice Kayani allowed electronic media to report on Ahmad Farhad’s case and ordered the live streaming of all missing person cases to ‘facilitate public awareness and understanding of important legal issues.’ He acknowledged that Ahmad’s case was not a novel situation and therefore found it imperative to formulate a formal procedure for such cases.