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Seized Pakistani journalist released in Islamabad

July 21, 2020

A well-known Pakistani journalist who has long criticised the military and judicial establishment was freed late Tuesday after uniformed men had snatched him off an Islamabad street in broad daylight.

Matiullah Jan, a freelancer who has worked for numerous local and foreign media outlets, had been bundled into the back of a car around midday outside a school in the capital, where he had come to see his wife.

His apparent abduction prompted a swift outcry from fellow journalists and a campaign to free Jan soon trended on Twitter.

“There were more than five people — some in civilian clothes, others in black uniforms — who forcibly picked up my husband,” his wife Kaneez Sughra told AFP in a phone interview.

Security footage captured by the school where Sughra teaches shows several men force Jan into a sedan outside the main gate.

Jan was released late Tuesday night, his younger brother told AFP.

“I have talked to Matiullah Jan, he is safe, alright and on his way home,” Shahid Akbar Abbasi said, adding it was too soon to know what had happened to Jan.

An Islamabad police spokesman said officers had begun gathering information in the case.

The military’s media department did not respond to requests for comment.

Sughra said her husband had been followed by unknown men in recent weeks. In 2017, an unidentified assailant threw a brick at his car.

Jan’s apparent abduction came a day before he was set to appear before Pakistan’s top court, where he was facing contempt proceedings over a tweet many saw as critical of Pakistan’s judges and military.

Pakistan routinely ranks among the world’s most dangerous countries for media workers, and reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed for being critical of the government or powerful military.

In a statement earlier, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had called for Jan’s safe release.

“We are deeply concerned at increasing attempts to control the media, suppress independent voices, and curb political dissent, thereby creating an environment of constant fear,” the commission said.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.