ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army has denied it was behind the abduction of a British-Pakistani activist known for criticising the military, in an incident that prompted a wave of condemnation and increased fears of a crackdown on free speech.
Gul Bukhari, 52, was detained for several hours by unknown men in Lahore late on Tuesday, one day after the military held a press conference warning that it’s monitoring citizens who criticise Pakistan.
She was released early Wednesday.
When news of her abduction broke it caused a furore, with widespread calls for her release and fingers pointed at the military.
The British High Commission expressed “concern” at the incident as activists called on the army to tolerate dissent.
“(The) army is not behind the abduction of Gul Bukhari,” Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, chief military spokesman, told reporters late on Friday.
“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.
Journalists have spoken of “pressure” not to cover the criticisms, adding to an atmosphere of repression.
During a wide-ranging press conference on Monday that appeared to address the mounting criticism, the military issued a veiled warning to online critics, saying it had the capacity to monitor social media accounts.
Maj Gen 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.
On Friday night, he said they “did not intend to implicate journalists”.
Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2018