Vanishing acts that would put Houdini’s most masterful work to shame have once again dawned upon the land of the pure. Poof! That’s how some of the most well-known proponents of free speech and human rights activists in the country have disappeared into thin air: alien abduction comes to mind, but the pattern suggests the works of more sinister forces that do not wish critical thinking to become national practice.

Using social media’s outreach to voice their concerns, these ‘traitors’ were guilty of a crime that wasn’t judged worthy of a legal due process, a crime so heinous that resorting to black-op-esque tactics was considered the only appropriate way to give them an attitude adjustment.

Guilty of unbalancing of what the ultra-nationalists otherwise consider a perfectly balanced national equation, these anomalies, if you will, wielded the power of words to confront elements that aimed to sew discord among the populace about the rights of minorities. They curated secular content on their social media pages to make a case for tolerance, equality and humanity, while academically rejecting notions both theological and political in nature prone to disrupting that process.

Free speech, it would seem, lies at the heart of all taboo subjects frowned upon in the country: Sabeen Mahmud’s violent silencing not too long is a testament to that. Although outright murder remains absent from the equation (for now) the recent disappearances of social activists in Pakistan indicates that suppression of free speech in the country has come back full circle, the message still the same: Do not tell truth to power. Divergents who dare defy that tradition either wound up missing or worse.

Irked hyper-nationalists often argue that as part of a grand terror plot to destabilise Pakistan or isolate it internationally, foreign intelligence operatives disguise themselves as activist nationals to construct subplots that hurt the country’s sovereignty and the peace process, thus warranting stern action against those criticising the powers that be.

The apologia quite accurately mirrors the US mass-surveillance of the American people. What started out as a means to combat terrorism soon became a nationwide spying operation that left no stones unturned to infringe upon people’s privates lives and rights as citizens. Terrorism remained the excuse, but not the reason. It wasn’t until whistleblowers like Edward Snowden stepped forward that the public caught wind of the shady activities of the NSA.

The abductees aren’t whistleblowers by any measure, but simply disseminators of facts that have been staring us in the face all along i.e. equality and tolerance is the only way forward for us as a nation. They rejected hyper-nationalist tendencies of ignoring gross negligence for their blind love of the state, and instead chose to highlight situations headed south like any patriot should. Expanding the working boundaries of countermeasures originally designed to curb terrorism to encompass individuals observing legitimate criticism of social or state policy once again raises questions about the legitimacy of these operations.

It is not uncommon for those holding dissent to be on the receiving end of an all-out-assault at the hands of the policymakers, or conservatives for that matter. For a nation that’s striving hard to stay optimistic in the midst of all the turmoil gripping it since inception, facts can become hard to digest, and questioning in the present that which was taken as absolute truth in the past can be an intimidating process. However, branding people who bring forth alternate perspectives or speak an uncomfortable truth as traitors or insurgents is an insult to intelligence. Not only does it create an air of insecurity among the masses, it also stifles progress and economic growth.

To the uninitiated, dissent spreads despair, when in fact it serves a purpose that’s completely the opposite: to empower people through speech and create a more open world where problems can be identified and uprooted altogether. Free speech may come off as treacherous, but treasonous it seldom is. Those who shed light on exposing toxic fictions growing between the cracks of accountability deserve to be hailed not booed.

As things stand, both intelligence and law enforcement agencies have denied involvement in the incidents and action to recover at least one such individual (Salman Haider) is currently underway by the Ministry of Interior. Strangely, social media pages of the said activists have been deleted which begs the question: If the abductees aren’t state actors why was it deemed necessary to delete social media accounts of individuals who have built a very public reputation of human rights activism?