TARGETED? Gul Bukhari


UK CAMPAIGNER FREED AFTER DETENTION PAKISTAN’S army has denied abducting a British- Pakistani activist known for criticising the military, in an incident last week. Gul Bukhari, 52, was detained for several hours by unknown men in Lahore late last Tuesday (5), one day after the military held a press conference warning that it is monitoring citizens who criticise Pakistan. She was released early last Wednesday (6). Bukhari is known for advocating human rights online and is also a prominent columnist whose articles are often critical of the military and its policies. When news of her abduction broke it caused a furore, with widespread calls for her release and fingers broadly pointed at the military. The British High Commission expressed “concern” at the incident as activists called on the army, which is the most powerful institution in Pakistan and has ruled the country for nearly half its 70-year history, to tolerate dissent. “(The) army is not behind the abduction of Gul Bukhari,” major general Asif Ghafoor, chief military spokesman, told reporters late last Friday (8). “We actually want a thorough investigation in this case,” he said. The military routinely says it is not involved in enforced disappearances, but the statement was a rare on-the-record denial. During a wide-ranging press conference last Monday that appeared to address the mounting criticism, the military issued a veiled warning to online critics, saying it has the capacity to monitor social media accounts. Ghafoor briefly flashed an image on screen showing what appeared to be Twitter handles and names, including of at least one prominent journalist, but refused to elaborate further, fuelling the outcry over free speech. Late last Friday he said they “did not intend to implicate journalists”. After her release, Bukhari, herself the daughter of an army general, said on Twitter she was well and asked for privacy. In her first comment since her abduction, Bukhari said in a tweet, without naming anyone: “Is there any shame? Any ethics, any grace? You just picked me?” Pakistani media organisations have alleged growing cen­sorship by the military in the run-up to the election, while rights groups have denounced the kidnappings of several social media activists over the past year as attempts to in­timidate and silence critics of Pakistan’s security forces. Last year, five bloggers went missing for several weeks. Four were released and fled abroad, with at least two later alleging that they were tortured by a state intelligence agency. (Agencies)