By Grant Buckler
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression plans a rally at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto Aug. 19 in support of Zeenat Shahzadi, a Pakistani journalist who was kidnapped two years ago and is still imprisoned.
“A CJFE volunteer wrote about Zeenat on the first anniversary of her kidnapping, and we’ve been following the case since,” said Duncan Pike, campaigns and advocacy co-ordinator for CJFE. “We were struck by her incredible bravery and persistence in continuing to pursue the story of a disappeared Indian national, despite the repeated threats she was subject to.
On Aug. 19, 2015, armed gunmen abducted Shahzadi, then a 24-year-old freelance reporter, from a rickshaw in Lahore and threw her into a waiting car. According to The Diplomat, she is believed to be the first female journalist subjected to enforced disappearance in Pakistan, but other journalists and human rights activists who reported on the activities of the intelligence services have been targeted and sometimes killed.
When she was abducted, Shahzadi was attempting to locate Hamid Ansari, an Indian citizen who had entered Pakistan without a visa in November 2012. He was detained by police and has not been heard from since. Shahzadi had been helping Ansari’s family seek his safe return.
According to a BBC report, Shahzadi had been picked up by security officials before her disappearance and questioned about Ansari’s case. She was due to appear before the Commission on Enforced Disappearances soon after the kidnapping to give testimony on the case.
According to CJFE, Shahzadi’s family and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan believe Pakistan’s Special Forces are responsible, arguing that the politically explosive nature of the story that she was working on, and the brazen nature of her kidnapping, point towards the intelligence agencies’ complicity.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Pakistani military and intelligence services are known to have been involved in a large number of abductions and enforced disappearances.
“She is one face in a much larger story about enforced disappearances in Pakistan, and how they are increasingly being used to silence dissent and criticism,” Pike said. “But sometimes it is easier to focus on one story than a larger trend, and we hope this campaign brings more attention to the problem and spurs action.”
The rally will take place at Nathan Phillips Square starting at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19, urging the Canadian government to call on the Pakistani government to order a full investigation of the kidnapping. CJFE is also working to bring the matter before Parliamentary human rights committees.
Grant Buckler is a retired freelance journalist and a volunteer with Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and lives in Kingston, Ont.