It was only last month when Punhal Sario marched from the Pakistani cities of Hyderabad to Karachi to demand the return of fellow activists who had gone “missing,” a Pakistani euphemism for those forcibly disappeared by the state authorities. Now, Sario himself is feared missing.
Witnesses say that Sario, a 58-year-old human rights activist and head of the Voice for Missing Persons of Sindh, was abducted from Hyderabad by security forces on August 3. Four days later, men in plainclothes accompanied by police officials abducted three other people – Partab Shivani, a teacher and activist; Naseer Kumbhar, a writer; and Mohammad Umer, a political party worker – from the Tharparkar district of Sindh province. Pakistani authorities deny any involvement, but have produced no information on the men’s whereabouts.
In a further show of intimidation of critical voices in Sindh, on August 8, security forces raided the home of Amar Sindhu, a well-known poet and activist in Mirpurkas district. Sindhu alleges that the authorities wanted to take her brother Najaf Ali into custody, who was not home at the time of the raid.
These recent alleged rights violations come just weeks after a review of Pakistan by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which recommended that Pakistan end the practice of enforced disappearances and secret detentions. These latest abductions unfortunately suggest that the Pakistani government will ignore the UN body’s recommendation to make disappearances – an arrest or detention by state officials followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate or whereabouts – a criminal offense under Pakistani law.
People who are disappeared are held without legal protection, making them much more vulnerable to torture and other abuses. The nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 728 people were forcibly disappeared in Pakistan in 2016 alone.
Pakistan’s new prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, can start his term in office with measures that would signal to Pakistanis and the world that his government is intent on reversing the country’s deteriorating human rights situation. Urgently providing information on the whereabouts of Punhal Sario and other disappeared activists and ensuring the prompt release of those wrongfully detained would be an important first step.