Lahore Police Deputy Inspector General (Investigation) Kamran Adil on Thursday told the Lahore High Court (LHC) that neither the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), nor the Military Intelligence (MI) had acknowledged custody of anchor Imran Riaz Khan and his whereabouts remain unknown.
Khan was arrested from the Sialkot airport on May 11 when he was flying to Oman, reportedly because police had raided his Lahore residence a day earlier. However, he was not presented in court in any case, with police claiming they had released him the same night and he had left with “unknown people.”
In an official complaint registered with police on May 16, Khan’s father alleged that CCTV footage from the police station showed his son being “abducted” by “masked men” after his release. Since then, he said, there had been no information about his son’s whereabouts, raising concerns that he was picked up by “agencies” and “disappeared”—a euphemism for enforced disappearances that originated during the tenure of Gen. Pervez Musharraf and have since continued during subsequent governments.
The LHC has been hearing the case for the past week, with Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti warning that he would punish anyone involved in the illegal abduction and detention of Khan. However, despite multiple deadlines for Khan’s recovery, there has been no headway on his whereabouts, with police repeatedly asserting that no law enforcement personnel have custody of the anchor anywhere in the country. Directions to the ministries of interior and defense to ensure the recovery of Khan have similarly failed to achieve any results.
During Thursday’s hearing into the plea seeking Khan’s recovery, the DIG said that police had contacted both the ISI and MI, with both agencies maintaining they did not have him in their custody. Taking the rostrum, Khan’s father claimed his son was being punished for making a vlog that was posted to YouTube. To this, Justice Bhatti said it had become a common occurrence for people to make “astonishing” allegations in vlogs as the worse the claim, they more money they made. Nonetheless, he remarked, the court was committed to upholding fundamental rights of all citizens.
The judge then directed the anchor’s lawyers to meet with the police team and provide them with any evidence of Khan’s whereabouts to facilitate his recovery. The hearing was then adjourned.
Meanwhile, anchorperson Sami Ibrahim also went “missing” from Islamabad on Wednesday night, with a statement from Islamabad Police saying they did not have custody of him and were endeavoring to locate and recover him. In a complaint registered at the Aabpara Police Station, Ibrahim’s brother said his sibling’s vehicle had been intercepted by four cars around 9 p.m. while he was returning home from his office. The complainant has alleged that Ibrahim was forcibly taken by 8-10 unidentified men, who also took three mobile phones from his driver and the car keys.
Both Ibrahim and Khan are considered sympathetic to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which is currently undergoing a crackdown against its leadership, workers and supporters over the May 9 riots triggered by the arrest of party chief Imran Khan in the Al-Qadir Trust corruption case.
In a joint statement, Amnesty International, Equidem, CIVICUS and Forum Asia have called for an end to the crackdown and release of all people held solely for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly. “Alarmingly, Imran Riaz Khan, a prominent journalist known for his support of the PTI was arrested at the Sialkot airport on May 11, and has not been heard from since. Despite court orders, police have failed to produce him and his fate and whereabouts remain unknown,” it said. “On May 22, the police told the Lahore High Court that there is no trace of him in any police department in the province. This constitutes an enforced disappearance under international human rights law. Punishing dissenting voices using enforced disappearance has been a worrying trend in Pakistan for many years and must be ended,” it added.