ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — A prominent human rights activist and a former lawmaker were arrested on Sunday after they rallied against enforced disappearances in Pakistan.
Lawyer Imaan Mazari-Hazir and politician Ali Wazir appeared at the first protest in months to be staged by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which fights for the rights of ethnic Pashtuns.
The pair appeared at a court in the capital Islamabad on Sunday and were remanded in custody in a case registered under the anti-terrorism act, lawyer Zainab Janjua told AFP.
Islamabad police said they faced “serious charges” in a court document seen by AFP.
PTM was launched to fight against what it says are military excesses committed during anti-terrorism operations in the country’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where most Pashtuns live.
The military has denied the accusations.
On Friday, up to 3,000 people attended the protest in Islamabad, where both Mazari-Hazir and Wazir gave speeches condemning harassment against Pashtuns and called for missing people to be returned.
“You are being stopped as if you are the terrorists, while the (Pakistani) Taliban have taken over your homes again,” Mazari-Hazir told the crowds in a video posted on social media.
A PTM spokesman told AFP that dozens more members have also been detained since the protest held in the capital Islamabad.
“It’s unacceptable and points to a larger, more worrying pattern of state-sanctioned violence against people exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement.
Shireen Mazari, the country’s human rights minister under former prime minister Imran Khan, said her daughter had been taken from her home in Islamabad by plainclothes women who did not present warrants.
“My daughter was in her night clothes and said ‘let me change’ but they just dragged her away,” she posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
As she was led into court by officers, Imaan Mazari-Hazir flashed a peace sign, still wearing her black and grey pajamas and white fluffy slippers.
Wazir is a PTM founding member who has long been an outspoken critic of the military and their anti-terror operations in the former tribal areas that border Afghanistan.
He was part of the outgoing government, representing the PTM, which dissolved earlier this month and has been arrested many times.
Pakistan has long grappled with militancy in the border areas near Afghanistan, with attacks on the rise since the Afghan Taliban seized power in Kabul in 2021.
Locals have staged a series of protests against the increased violence and have demanded better protection from the state.
Meanwhile, authorities have in recent months cracked down hard against dissent — crushing the street power of Pakistan’s most popular politician Imran Khan after he led a wave of criticism against Pakistan’s military and intelligence services.
Khan, who was ousted last year, was jailed earlier this month for graft — charges he says are politically motivated — ahead of an upcoming general election expected to be delayed.