Why is the Pakistani media silent about Raza Khan’s disappearance?
By Zeeba Hashmi
Raza Khan, a peace educator in Lahore went missing on the eve of 2nd December, 2017, and since then, his friends and family are constantly living in anguish. Not a day goes by without us calling the authorities and asking whether there has been any breakthrough in their search for him, but they don’t have any answers to give us. It is hard for us to even imagine that a person as humble as Raza could have enemies. His work with the children, his adoration for friends, the love for the people, and his compassion for critics does not indicate anything that could go wrong by him. A simpleton from rural Kasur, he arrived in Lahore for studies, and it is here that he fell in love with the city, with its colors and its life. His pain of seeing suffering around is what motivated him to speak for human rights, to talk about peace and to believe in human dignity. A young man who lived by his principles and sense of social justice, Raza Khan is a rarity in Pakistan. He spoke his mind and never feared, and this is perhaps why he went missing.
On that eve, he had just come out of his work place after hosting an evening for the youth discussing about extremism and the then recent Faizabad sit-in fiasco in Islamabad. He was last seen by his friends around 8 that evening, and since then, everyone lost their contact with him. His friends went out to search for him in the hospitals, at police stations, at his family’s village, at his neighbors. Finally, they decided to report it to police when they found that only his CPU went missing from his flat. This was a very familiar pattern that we have seen in other cases of enforced disappearances. The police initially refused to file an FIR, but finally gave in when we pressurized them more. Since then, we have tried everything to have him recovered, but all authorities deny having him in their custody. Everyone knows in whose custody he is, yet nobody dares talk about it. We tried our luck with a habeas corpus petition; registering the case with Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances and also by contacting the United Nations (UN) for help, but despite so many hearings, there is still no sign of him. Every time we attend the hearing at Lahore High Court, we end up coming back to square one. The question remains the same for us every single day: where is Raza?
In recent events, we have witnessed how our speech and expressions have been seriously curtailed. We are witnessing how fear is being instilled in us for claiming our public spaces by our peaceful assembly and liberal interactions with the youth. We are living in dangerous times where any dissent can cost you your life. Indeed, these are times of despair for us, and in such suffocation, there are no easy ways of reporting how widespread this sense of intimidation is here. Raza’s case in Lahore is no different than what we see in other cases where peaceful citizens like him have vanished into air, yet, the pervasiveness of such disappearances is much more common than we originally imagined, or read in the papers. Though we feel somewhat lucky to have a few sympathetic ears who raised our cause in select media, but for most part, the news remains blacked out. We’ve taken out many rallies here, held seminars and protest camp, spread the message across at different events and wasted no opportunity to talk not just about Raza, but also about many Razas who are out there but their voices are never heard and we feel, even our voices are not being delivered to the world. We know very well about the risks and threats that ensue with such efforts. We know that we are also being watched and are under surveillance for speaking for victims of enforced disappearances. But we really have no choice here but to raise more awareness about it. No mainstream Urdu media has ever reported on Raza. TV media in general has not covered it, with a few, rare exceptions. We extensively make use of social media, but that also comes with negative remarks from some claiming Raza might have done something wrong that got him into trouble. The truth of the matter is this, we can vouch for Raza to be a law abiding citizen, and if there is anything he has done, then we demand that he should be tried in the court as the right to fair trial is enshrined in our constitution. We feel that the issue of enforced disappearances is not openly talked about in the media, or even if it were, it comes with vile, false propaganda against the victims so as to justify them going missing. We also feel that the self censorship of the media, and the ways with which it is being controlled needs to be talked about more. Despite all the blackout and the attempts to shut our voices, we are standing our ground because we know that this wrong, and we will continue to talk against enforced disappearances until the state stops this policy and brings justice to all its victims and their families.