Abduction of journalist exposes dark underbelly of freedom of speech in Pakistan

New Delhi Edited By: Palki SharmaUpdated: Jul 23, 2020, 07:46 AM IST

File photo: Matiullah Jan, a journalist and columnist, gestures during an interview with Reuters at his office in Islamabad, Pakistan March 13, 2019. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Matiullah Jan was abducted on the 21st of July and the incident happened in broad daylight in capital Islamabad. 

Article 19 of Pakistan's constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. It also guarantees freedom of the press with certain restrictions. But try exercising any of this. Best case scenario, you'll be muzzled. Worst case, you'll be murdered.

Censorship is the law of the land and journalism a crime in the country. Journalists are often punished for doing their job.

Matiullah Jan was abducted on the 21st of July and the incident happened in broad daylight in capital Islamabad. 

The abduction was caught on camera. The CCTV footage went viral and caught the attention of the people in Pakistan and outside. Questions were raised about Islamabad's crumbling law and order.

Some netizens compared the Pakistani establishment to a terror group. Others called the country a banana republic. Prayers poured in for Matiullah Jan whose abduction became the talk of the town.

Soon, Pakistan's judiciary had to step in. Jan was supposed to appear in Pakistan's apex court today. He was expected to speak in support of a judge Faiz Isa who is currently facing charges for failing to declare his assets.

Jan was supposed to speak in his favour. It did not take time for people to realise that his abduction was at an attempt by Pakistan's military to keep him away from the courtroom and pressure was building on Pakistan's authorities. 

The pressure grew so much, that in a rare move the abductors had to release him after being held captive for around 12 hours.

The journalist tweeted that he is back home safe and sound. If Pakistan wants to do away with such abductions and enforced disappearances, it must address the root cause of the problem -- intolerance for freedom of speech and expression.

There have been many cases of brazen censorship in the last one year. Distribution of leading newspapers was interrupted. TV channels were take off the air for giving a platform to opposition leaders. Journalists were harassed for doing their jobs. Four journalists and bloggers were killed and the perpetrators were given absolute impunity.

Pakistan should not be allowed to call itself one till every journalist is Pakistan is safe.