On late Tuesday night, Gul Bukhari, a long time columnist for The Nation, was on her way to the Waqt TV studio on Queen’s Road for a talk show when the vehicle she was travelling in was intercepted by unknown persons. She was subsequently abducted on Sherpao Bridge in Lahore’s Cantonment area, and her disappearance caused a flurry of panic on social media that this might account for another instance of intimidation of journalists. She has since been returned to her home, yet the fear that this incident caused still remains.

It is important to note that Gul Bukhari has been a strong critic of judicial and executive overreach and had been one of the few voices to give emphatic coverage to the controversial PTM. Her work had marked her as a contentious figure by the establishment.

This abduction also comes in the aftermath of the highly revealing DG ISPR conference held yesterday, where the DG disclosed that the army would be monitoring a list of activists and politicians who posted “anti-state” content on social media, a list which included reasonable and well-known journalists such as Matiullah Jan and Umar Cheema. With this backdrop of the establishment’s displeasure with journalists in mind, it is clear that the perpetrators behind Gul Bukhari’s abduction had the intention of censoring her criticism against the state’s actions, and her advocacy of the PTM.

Indeed, this abduction marks the most blatant attempt at violation of freedom of speech, yet unfortunately it is not the only one today. Broadcast Journalist Asad Kharral was beaten up by masked men in Lahore, apparently in another censorship tactic. These attacks today, with the backdrop of the formidable warning against journalists issued by the DG ISPR, set a foreboding undertone that more such incidents will also unfurl against dissenting voices.

Only, perhaps the warning this time may not work. Gul Bukhari’s abduction has prompted a strong response from civil society, where for the first time, influential political and authority figures have condemned the attempt at censorship. Leaders from across the political spectrum, ranging from Maryam Nawaz to Bilawal Bhutto to Shireen Mazari, have criticised the treatment of Gul Bukhari and the intimidation tactics to silence her. The slides at the ISPR’s conference showcasing problematic journalists and the ensuing instances of violence against media personalities, may have taken things too far, and the backlash from civil society should hopefully deter such further use of intimidation tactics.