Home Editorial Editorial: The ‘Missing Persons’ of Pakistan

Editorial: The ‘Missing Persons’ of Pakistan

TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan’s return after a ‘disappearance’ spanning months is a reminder of the thousands who remain ‘missing’ nationwide

by Editorial

File photo of Imran Riaz Khan

TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan was “recovered” and “returned home safely” on Monday after “missing” for nearly five months. Initially arrested from the Sialkot airport on May 11 as part of the crackdown initiated after the May 9 riots, he was released a day later, with CCTV footage showing him leaving in a private car. As he failed to return home, his family filed a plea in the Lahore High Court seeking information on his whereabouts, with police informing the court that he was not in the custody of any police department or intelligence agency of the country. Despite his “recovery,” neither police nor Khan have thus far revealed where he has been for the past many months; though the court of public opinion has already decided that he fell victim to an extrajudicial “disappearance” at the hands of the state.

The public view is supported by a statement Khan’s lawyer posted on X, formerly Twitter, in which he lamented that the situation took a long time to resolve “due to the pile of difficulties, the last limit of understanding of the matter, a weak judiciary and the current ineffective Constitution and legal helplessness.” Unfortunately, Khan is neither the first—nor likely to be the last—Pakistani to “disappear” with no explanation or accountability for his absence. Human rights activists have repeatedly accused law enforcement agencies of being responsible for forced disappearances, especially in restive Balochistan. In response, agencies have claimed a majority of the “missing” have either fled abroad or have joined a militant outfit such as the TTP or Al Qaeda. Amidst mounting outrage, the government established the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in 2011. The three-member commission claims to have received over 9,000 complaints of enforced disappearance since its inception, resolving around 7,000 of them. However, the “disappearances” have continued, with no end in sight.

Imran Riaz Khan’s return is a welcome development, but represents the anguish thousands of families continue to experience, as they await any word on the whereabouts of their loved ones. There is no justification for anyone to be apprehended and detained without charge for months, or even years, and Pakistan cannot hope to emerge as a true, democratic state until it respects not only fundamental human rights, but also the country’s abundantly clear laws.

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