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The Peculiar Case of Matiullah Jan

A renowned Pakistani journalist with a reputation for his strong opposition to his country’s military establishment was abducted in broad daylight only to be released 12 hours later.

On the morning of Tuesday, 21st July, Matiullah Jan dropped his wife Kaneeez Sugar at an all-girls government school located in Islamabad i.e. the heart of the city,

where she is a teacher. About an hour later, Kaneez heard that “a scuffle was going on outside the school gate but I couldn't hear my husband’s voice”.

“When I called him at 1:15 pm, he was not answering," she said, adding that when she went outside the school, she saw that their car was still where Jan had dropped her. "The car was unlocked, the windows open and the keys and one of his cell phones inside it," she said.

Later, CCTV footage was circulated by journalists that showed him being forced into a sedan. Footage also showed that he threw his phone across the fence, only to have a security guard hand it to an unidentified uniform-clad man. “There were more than five people — some in civilian clothes, others in black uniforms — who forcibly picked up my husband,” Kaneez Sughra said.

However, before the police could find any evidence or leads, Jan returned home.

On Tuesday night, Jan had been released by unidentified people in a deserted area in Fateh Jang, outside the capital, where some locals helped him return home. He was sound and had not been tortured during the period of his abduction. Jan is quoted saying that he was merely blindfolded, taken to an unknown location and then driven around the city before his release.

As to who his abductors could be, Sughra said her husband had been followed by unknown men in recent weeks and was even threatened by Inter-Services Intelligence.

Jan was also meant to attend court in a hearing regarding contemptuous tweets he had published against the judiciary and some judges. As of Wednesday, 22nd July, Justice Gulzar held a hearing right after Jan’s disappearance to ask them why they hadn’t recorded any statements until today when Jan was asked about his abduction at the outset of his hearing. The court seemed infuriated by the police’s lack of action.

The court has assured Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists' former president Afzal Butt that the case was not being wrapped up and the police's current priority has become to find out the identities of the assailants in two weeks.

Some things about this case however, don’t add up. Firstly, why would a dozen armed men risk abducting a man in broad daylight just to take him for a “ride around the town”?

Secondly, neither Jan nor the family made any clarifications about the abduction on public record, a fact which is strange because of Jan’s knowledge of journalism and his public reach.

Thirdly, it is extremely odd that the police didn’t take his statement the moment he returned, or even the next day, despite the wide media coverage of his case. This seems too amiss to just be reduced to negligence.

Finally, it doesn't seem reasonable that the court summoned Jan the day after his abduction- completely disregarding any trauma or even fatigue this incident would have caused him. It could be that the case is just young and the details are not completely publicized, but something about this case seems terribly off and raises many red flags.

This issue is being investigated, but this abduction lit a small spark that could lead to a great fire of justice. Rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Pakistan 145th out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, an index that controls countries that are under conflict. Let that sink in.

Journalists in Pakistan are being harassed due to their stand against increasing government and military censorship, intimidation, and harassment of journalists. However, Jan’s story mustn’t lose value as this case loses traction in news cycles.

Reporter- Katyayani Nath