ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani journalist known for his criticism of the country’s military on Thursday recounted his ordeal this week when armed men abducted him in broad daylight and held him captive for a day.
It was the first time Matiullah Jan, who was freed on Tuesday, shared details about his 12-hour detention.
Enforced disappearances, usually by intelligence agencies, are common in Pakistan but it’s rare that a victim and survivor of such an incident goes public about it.
Jan chose to release a video in which explains how he had dropped off his wife on Tuesday morning at a school in Islamabad where she works and was checking messages on his phone, his car still parked, when armed men arrived in several vehicles. They surrounded his car, dragged him out, threw him into a vehicle and sped away.
Jan said the men wore a mix of plainclothes and police uniform. He said he threw his mobile phone into the school yard as he was being dragged away, hoping someone would later notice it and realize what had happened.
But one of his abductors saw he had thrown the phone and asked a school guard to retrieve it. The phone was returned, and the cars sped away with Jan. Minutes later, news of his abduction broke on social media. Closed-circuit TV footage from the school area showed the entire abduction.
His wife, Kaneez Sughra, spoke to the media outside the family’s home, showing a photo of her husband on her smart phone and appealing for his life.
The abduction quickly drew outrage and condemnation from fellow journalists and human rights activists in Pakistan and across the world who rallied in support of Jan and demanded Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government ensure the journalist’s release and freedom. Jan was released later that evening.
The government has so far not commented on Jan’s abduction.
“I think those who abducted me are the same people who are against democracy, who are against the political system, and who do not accept the supremacy of the constitution, those who do not accept the supremacy of parliament and have been conspiring from day one against the constitutional system and rule of law,” Jan said in the video, without naming anyone.
He said his captors brought him inside a building with iron doors, put a black hood over his head and handcuffed him. They forced him to sit on the floor and repeatedly beat him, he said.
Jan said he was not formally questioned but that his abductors kept saying: “What do you think you are? Don’t you know what you are doing? Why do you say such things”.
He understood the questions to refer to his frequent criticism of the military and the country’s intelligence services, which have been accused of harassing journalists and human rights activists.
At one point, his abductors started saying how they had gotten the wrong man but he didn’t know whether that was meant to frighten him even more.
Jan said the most terrifying moment came at the end, when his abductors took him out of the building and drove him to a deserted area outside Islamabad where they threw him into the bushes. He thought they would then kill him, Jan said.
But instead they went back to their cars and drove away. He said he later signaled to a passing vehicle and contacted his family to let them know he was free and coming home.
Jan concluded his video message by saying he would not be swayed in his intention to speak up for democracy and rule of law, and thanked all those who had rallied in his defense and demanded his freedom — voices Jan credited with helping bring about his release so quickly.