Since the last two weeks, we have all been listening about the recently disappeared bloggers and activists, including a university professor and poet Salman Haider. Like many others from Balochistan, I also have concerns about Punjab’s stance on enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings outside of Punjab since the past decade or so. This time the missing persons are not from some far-flung town of Balochistan, but from the very heart of the country i.e. Islamabad and Punjab. When the news broke saying that a university professor and renowned poet Salman Haider and few others are missing, I asked myself, but who is this Salman Haider? I was in shock, my mind had stopped working, and words disappeared. The first thing that came into my mind soon after hearing the news, was the poem ‘main bhi kafir tu bhi kafir’; a poem addressing the common practice of people declaring others infidel on petty differences of opinion. This label of infidelity continues to haunt the minority sects and religions ever since the Second Amendment of the 1973 Constitution was passed declaring the Ahmadiyya community as non-Muslims. Whatever the motives behind this labeling were, and are, the fact is that it has now gone beyond the control of state, with self-righteous religious groups and mobs labeling others with impunity, depending on whosoever dare to differ from them.

As a lawyer, the first client I came across at my law chamber was of an individual accused of terrorism. I reached my senior Advocate Muhammad Dawood Kasi late (who lost his precious life along with 61 other lawyers of Balochistan Bar) and said that we should not take the case, as it involves advocating for criminals. He asked if I were a lawyer or a judge? “Of course I am a lawyer not a judge”, I replied. He then reminded me of the concept of jurisprudence that no person shall be condemned unheard, that we must follow rule of law rather than making judgments, that it’s the courts who are to decide who is criminal and who is not. And since then, I have tried to follow the due process, struggled for fair trial, rule of law and equal justice.

Coming back to Salman Haider, and other missing persons, the first fear that came into my mind about their disappearance was if they they’d been abducted by Lashkar-e-Janghavi or the Taliban? Later on the Interior Minister’s statement about the missing of activists and bloggers gave me a feeling that they were with some state agency and will come back soon – that they will not be killed on the ground of sect or belief. But the Interior Minister’s statement was not a justification for enforced disappearances. No one has the authority to keep confining people without bringing them before a court of law.  No one is above the constitution – the constitution that guarantees right to fair trial for all its citizens – that promised that no person shall be subject to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence – that all citizens will be equal in the eye of law and shall be dealt with due process.

These things were pinching me but then I asked myself is it something new? Did this happen for the first time? Are they the first ones who have gone missing suspiciously? No, a father for his missing son marched from Quetta Press Club to Islamabad, in an effort to give a message that if we are the first we won’t be the last. A boy carried out hunger strike for around sixty days, demanding the right to fair trial of missing persons. You will hear dozens of such stories from Balochistan, with no one ready to address them. The marches, the hunger strikes, the protest rallies, all were to no avail. And nowadays the loved ones of enforcedly disappeared persons, out of fear of receiving their mutilated bodies, are unable to muster up the courage to speak against the ones responsible for their disappearance; and prefer to remain silent.

The initial allegation against Salman Haider and other activists and bloggers was that they were – through their activism – demanding that the perpetrators stop this cruel practice of abducting people and that rule of law be respected. They were also questioning the state’s stance on missing persons in Balochistan. Instead of their concerns and questions being addressed, they have disappeared. They are now being maligned for so-called blasphemy through a well-organized social media campaign, making them vulnerable to be harmed by those self-righteous religious groups and mobs. Provoking religious sentiments of the masses against enforcedly disappeared persons, without producing them before a court of law, without giving them a chance to defend themselves, and without any information about their whereabouts is making their case even worse. Now if they are produced before a court of law, or even if they are released – which is likely – they will remain vulnerable for the rest of their lives. The role of electronic and Urdu print media are also biased and they are playing the same role as they did in the past, before the assassination of the then Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer.

People of this country voted for democracy, for the revival of the constitution that was kept in abeyance by a dictator. People voted for democracy so that their fundamental rights in the constitution are secured. Why has the number of missing persons increased as compared to the past, as compared to the reign of dictators? This has never happened before that the Interior Minister has become an apologist of terrorists and hate-mongers. Is Salman Haider’s poetry more of a danger than the terror spread by Taliban and Lashkar-e-Janghavi who killed seventy thousand innocent citizens of this country?

The state must draw a line between rule of law and a banana republic before it is too late. Because we have seen the examples of states which violated human rights and as a result revolts and chaos became the fate of those nations. It was not too long ago, just thirty years back, when Afghanistan started to see its intellectuals being abducted, and now as a result we can see that the state exists, but its writ is controlled by others.

It is not too late because the state is like a mother, and if she doesn’t protect her child, someone might abduct it.

It is not too late for the missing persons to be brought before justice and be dealt in accordance with the law under the same constitution to whom we all pledge to be loyal to and maintain that nothing will be done in contrary to it.

It is not too late to value human rights above everything; otherwise history of Spain is not that obscure to learn lessons about what happened to the state when it stopped respecting human rights.

Even those who are allegedly involved into any non-state activities must be bought before court. Let the courts decide who is innocent and who is guilty, instead of maligning them with false accusations of blasphemy.

If we can absolve a person who himself kept the constitution in abeyance and is charged with high treason and let him go out of country while facing trials, why not poets and writers?