Where is Raza?

There is still no clue to the whereabouts of Raza Khan even after twelve court hearings by four different judges

Where is Raza?

It has been five and half months since the disappearance of Raza Khan. An activist, Raza believed peace between Pakistan and India holds the key to prosperity. He pursued his goal by connecting students from both sides of the border.

Following is the story of the search for Raza, led by his family and his fellow activists:

After the filing of FIR, the initial police investigation suggested that nothing but his computer CPU was taken from his apartment and a citizen’s emergency call regarding the abduction provided no lead, because the car’s number plate was not the same as the one used for his abduction. A senior police officer investigating the case said in informal discussions that Raza’s was a case of enforced disappearance by the state’s intelligence agencies -- because of his Facebook posts critical of the army.

Thus started the hearings of a habeas corpus petition filed in the Lahore High Court, with the Punjab government and the Federal Interior Ministry as respondents. The first hearing took place on December 13, 2017, presided over by Justice Anwar ul Haq, who asked the investigation officer to appear in court on the next hearing. However, for the next hearing on December 18, the case was transferred to Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed, who asked the Assistant Advocate General to take meaningful steps and coordinate with the federal law officer to find and present Raza in court.

In the next hearing on December 22, the judge seemed quite perturbed when Raza’s whereabouts was not presented. But he excused himself from the matter, stating that the next judge would have to worry about the matter as he was moving to the Rawalpindi bench. Since the court was about to go on winter break, the next hearing was fixed for January 9, 2018.

When Raza’s friends and family got to the court for the next hearing, they found that the case was not listed before any judge. Immediate efforts were made to get the case listed the same day through various contacts at the court as Raza’s elderly father and brothers had to take an early morning bus from a village near Kasur to come to Lahore, and we did not want to waste their day, time and money.

Luckily through a contact, the case was listed before Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan, where both the Assistant Advocate General and the Assistant Attorney General asked for more time to assist the court in the matter of the most basic rights of the citizen, the Right to Life and Freedom.

On the next hearing of January 22, the honorable judge called the Deputy Attorney General to appear and take the case seriously, giving him time till February 7 to submit a report on Raza’s whereabouts, which he did. A confidential report of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) stated that his location was not known.

At the same time, Raza’s application had also been filed with the UN’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances as well as Pakistan’s Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COEED), which called its first hearing on February 9, 2018.

Raza’s family was asked to appear before the joint investigation team of the police, headed by a DIG, where an investigation officer was questioned by his superior to ensure that certain details about Raza were included.

On February 9, when we appeared before the Commission with the police team along with representatives of all intelligence agencies sitting at the long table headed by the Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, we were given all kinds of soothing assurances to not worry because Raza will be home soon.

In conclusion, the Chairman dictated a note addressed to the intelligence agencies, inquiring if they were holding Raza.

Searching for justice, we went back to the Lahore High Court for the next hearing on February 21. To our surprise, the case was not in the list to be heard even though this was the date given to all, including the lawyer. Another day was wasted.

On the next hearing on March 7, a little progress was made by the inclusion of Defense Ministry as a respondent and a report was sought from the ISI and Military Intelligence on March 22.

A second hearing of the Commission took place on March 19 with the Chairman repeating exactly the same soothing words as the last time, while dictating the same note while the representative of intelligence agencies sat there stone faced.

On March 22, the government asked for more time to file a report. On April 23, although a new justice, Raja Shahid Mehmood Abbasi, took up the case, no progress was made in the case. It was only on May 7 that the ISI and MI through Defense Ministry denied that they were holding Raza. On May 10, the judge disposed of the petition after the SSP stated that the JIT had been formed and the Commission was looking into the matter.

After 12 hearings, headed by four different judges, we were told that Raza has vanished into thin air. We were directed to listen to the soothing stories of the Commission with fellow citizen attendees whose cases go as far back as 2010 and missing loved ones as young as 16 year old.

Such is the status of justice in our land.

Where is Raza?