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Four social media activists go missing

By our correspondents
January 09, 2017

ISLAMABAD: At least four activists known on social media for their secular leftist views have gone missing this week, relatives and NGO workers told AFP on Sunday, as analysts voiced rights concerns.

Two of the men -- Waqas Goraya and Asim Saeed -- disappeared on January 4, according to a cyber security NGO, while Salman Haider vanished on Friday and Ahmed Raza Naseer on Saturday, relatives said. 

The interior ministry has said it will investigate the disappearance of Haider, a blogger known for his outspoken views on enforced disappearances in the southwestern province of Balochistan, but made no reference to the others.

All four were active on social media groups promoting leftist, secular views, often against the establishment or conservative state.  Pakistan is routinely ranked among the world's most dangerous for journalists, and reporting critical of the establishment is considered a major red flag, with journalists at times detained, beaten and even killed.

"The state has controlled TV and now they're focusing on digital spaces," said Raza Rumi, a writer and analyst who left Pakistan in 2014 after he was attacked by gunmen who shot his driver dead.

A security source denied intelligence services were involved in the disappearances.  Naseer, who suffers from polio, was taken from his family's shop in central Punjab province, his brother Tahir told AFP Sunday.

Hours after Haider was due home on Friday evening, his wife received a text message from his phone saying he was leaving his car on the Islamabad Expressway, his brother Faizan told AFP.  Police later found the car and registered a missing persons report. Faizan said his brother had not received any specific threats.

Waqas Goraya, who is usually a resident of the Netherlands, was picked up on January 4, as was Aasim Saeed, said Shahzad Ahmed, head of cyber security NGO Bytes for All. "None of these activists have been brought to any court of law or levelled with any charges. Their status disappearance is very worrying not only for the families, but also for netizens and larger social media users in the country," Ahmad said.