UNITED NATIONS -  A United Nations human rights expert on Wednesday called on the Pakistani authorities to make it a top priority to locate, protect and return home four disappeared human rights and social media campaigners.

“I strongly urge the Government of Pakistan to take every step possible to locate the four missing activists, a first step toward reemphasising its commitment to freedom of expression at the beginning of the year,” David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, said in a statement from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.

According to reports, the four men –Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, Salman Haider and Ahmed Raza Naseer – went missing between January 4 and 7. Some media outlets had accused them of promoting blasphemy, a criminal offence in Pakistan.

“Free expression campaigners and experts have long called for the abolition of criminal blasphemy provisions in Pakistan, which may carry the death penalty,” Kaye noted.

“Not only are such laws incompatible with international human rights law, but they also facilitate threats by State and non-State actors seeking to target expression.”

The Special Rapporteur stressed that “all States have an obligation to promote a diverse space and culture for expression, but such culture does not create itself.”