FIR Fired Against Bajwa, Gafoor and others in Brussels

An FIR is Filed against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General Asif Ghafoor and Colonel Sohail Iqbal besides other suspects in Brussels for attack on Human Rights Activist Ahmad Waqass Goraya on 7-February 2020. Amad Waqass Goraya was attacked by two unidentified men outside his house in the western city of Rotterdam on 2-February 2020.

FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General Asif Ghafoor And Colonel Sohail Iqbal In Brussels
FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General Asif Ghafoor And Colonel Sohail Iqbal In Brussels

“I was on the phone when a man appeared and began punching me in the face while I saw another man with him filming the attack,” Goraya told RSF about the February 2 attack. RSF said the attacker threatened to kill Goraya and warned him that “he knew exactly where he [Goraya] and his family live.”

FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa and others for attack on  Ahmad Waqass Goraya In Brussels
FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa and others for attack on Ahmad Waqass Goraya In Brussels

As per the FIR filed against Pakistan Army brass by Ahmad Waqass Goraya, he has expressed the possibility of the Pakistani spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), being involved in the attack.

Ahmad Waqass Goraya tweeted a series of tweets mentioning about the FIR.

He also tweeted a video in which Pakistan Army General could be heard giving a veiled threat to all those living abroad who speak against Pakistan and abuse Pakistan Army and talk of breaking Pakistan will not be spared.

The Pakistani authorities have not commented on the attack or Goraya’s accusations. But the Pakistani military has repeatedly denied any involvement in intimidating or harassing journalists.

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Dutch authorities to investigate a recent attack on an exiled Pakistani blogger in the Netherlands and provide him protection.

Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, urged the Dutch police to concentrate on Goraya’s complaint, including the possibility of the Pakistani spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), being involved in the attack.

“If it is confirmed that the ISI was responsible for this shocking attack, it would set an unacceptable precedent and would constitute a flagrant violation of Dutch sovereignty,” Bastard noted. “We therefore urge Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok to immediately summon Pakistan’s ambassador to The Hague and demand an explanation.”

Shoot the messenger

Pakistan follows the policy of “shoot the messenger”. 61 journalists have been killed in Pakistan between 1992 and 2019. Their crime, they wrote against the Pakistan Government or Pakistan Army or Pakistan Intelligence Agency ISI. Check the article Pakistan Shamed Over Twitter Censorship During “Defend Media Freedom” Conference In London for detailed information.

On July 8, 2019, Military-backed #PEMRA took off-air three news channels namely 24News, AbbTak News and Capital News without any prior notice or giving them a hearing, for showing live speech of Maryam Nawaz. Journalism organizations announce country-wide protests in Pakistan in solidarity with Capital TV.

Protests in 2017 for release of Ahmad Waqass Goraya
Protests in 2017 for release of Ahmad Waqass Goraya

Earlier on June 12, 2019, A new order issued by Pakistan’s media regulatory PEMRA has advised media channels to not air “satirical content” that demeans politicians or individuals associated with law enforcement agencies.

The “advice of airing satirical content” order issued by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on June 12 has advised media houses to carefully select words and gestures while creating content or memes.

“Furthermore, an effective In-House Editorial Committee must also be constituted in order to ensure compliance of PEMRA laws which could sift unwarranted content,” the order declared.

On 9th July, A journalist, Mureed Abbas working with a Pakistan News channel “Bol TV” was killed outside a local café in Khayaban-e-Bukhari area of Karachi.

Earlier, another Journalist Gorhar Wazir was abducted on May 29, 2019 and kept in detention in at a prison in Haripur District without any charges. He was released after a few days on May 31 . He was in North Waziristan while covering the incident and miseries of people after the Pakistan Army attacked the peaceful, non-violent, Gandhinian protesters during a rally of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), and opened fire that killed over 21 civilians and injured over 100.

Ahmad Waqass Goraya

Ahmad Waqass Goraya, a human rights defender and a blogger from Pakistan had been mostly living in Netherlands during the past 13 years.

FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General Asif Ghafoor And Colonel Sohail Iqbal In Brussels by Ahmad Waqass Goraya
FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General Asif Ghafoor And Colonel Sohail Iqbal In Brussels by Ahmad Waqass Goraya

He was the founder and co-administrator of Mochi, a satirical Facebook page, through which he campaigned for human rights and religious freedom. In January 2017, he was abducted for 24 days along with four other bloggers, all but one of whom now live in exile. The four men, Salman Haider, a well-known poet and academic, and bloggers Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, and Ahmad Raza Naseer, went missing or were taken away from different cities between January 4 and January 7, 2017.

Goraya, an anthropologist who blogged on issues of religious freedom, and Saeed, a blogger and an administrator of a Facebook page hosting progressive views critical of religious extremists and Pakistan’s security policies, were reported missing from Wapda Town, Lahore, on January 4.

FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General Asif Ghafoor And Colonel Sohail Iqbal In Brussels by Ahmad Waqass Goraya
FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General Asif Ghafoor And Colonel Sohail Iqbal In Brussels by Ahmad Waqass Goraya

Haider, a poet and professor at Fatima Jinnah Women University, went missing on the evening of January 6. His wife received a text message telling her to pick Salman’s car from Koral Chowk, Islamabad.

On January 7, unidentified men took away Naseer, a blogger running a Facebook page broadcasting secular, progressive views, from his family’s shop in Sheikhupura, Punjab.

Waqass Goraya, one of five activists who disappeared in early January, told in 2017 that he was tortured “for pleasure”.

The activists were freed after several weeks.

Pakistan’s army had previously denied any involvement in the case. There were vocal protests seeking their release.

Pakistan is one of the the world’s most dangerous countries for reporters and human rights activists, and critics of the powerful military have been detained, beaten or killed.

FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General Asif Ghafoor And Colonel Sohail Iqbal In Brussels by Ahmad Waqass Goraya
FIR Filed Against Pakistan Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, General Asif Ghafoor And Colonel Sohail Iqbal In Brussels by Ahmad Waqass Goraya

Waqass Goraya had told the BBC that he had been tortured “beyond limits”.

He described being punched, slapped and forced into stress positions during the three weeks he was held. He worried he would never be released.

“We knew it was over… We will die under torture,” he told the BBC.

He also spoke at a side event at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva about his experiences.

Mr Goraya believes he was detained because he ran a satirical Facebook page critical of the influence of the Pakistani military in the country’s political system.

The page has also criticized military policy in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. Mr Goraya strongly denies breaking any laws.

“I hadn’t done anything criminal – otherwise I would’ve been in a court not in illegal detention,” he told the BBC.

All four men were vocal critics of militant religious groups and Pakistan’s military establishment, and used the internet to disseminate their views. Their near simultaneous disappearance and the government’s shutting down of their websites and blogs raises grave concerns of government involvement.

After Waqass Goraya and the other activists disappeared, a campaign demanding their release sprang up around the hashtag #recoverallactivists. But a counter-campaign both online – and backed by a number of TV anchors – accusing them of blasphemy also began.

Blasphemy is an emotive issue in Pakistan – and can legally be punishable by death.

We covered in details on Blasphemy laws in Pakistan in our previous article Christian And Hindus Face Blasphemy Laws, Acid Attacks, Forcefully Converted To Islam In Pakistan

Mr Goraya says the allegations of blasphemy are false, and that alleged blasphemous postings have been fabricated.

On Feb. 1, 2017, a complaint was filed with Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) against the five activists, accusing them of committing blasphemy on social media – a violation punishable by death under Pakistani law. After an initial investigation, the complaint was found to be baseless.

Mr Goraya believes the blasphemy allegations are an attempt “to shut us down – to threaten our families – to build pressure on us”.

If his temporary abduction in 2017 was aimed at deterring the Pakistani blogger from airing critical views of his country’s powerful security establishment and dangerous Islamist militants, his tormenters were dead wrong.

Ahmad Waqas Goraya, who was abducted for almost three weeks in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore in January 2017, is determined to fight for what he sees as his contribution to build a better Pakistan.

Goraya, 34, an information technology specialist, said that contrary to widespread accusations that have appeared in some Pakistani media, he did nothing wrong and his social media activism aimed to speak the truth by employing satire.

In words of Goraya:

“We were abducted by the Pakistani military, which controls everything in the country. We were tortured and threatened, and a strategic hate campaign was started in our absence with vile accusations of blasphemy. If you want to silence someone in Pakistan, you accuse them of blasphemy – it’s that easy. The tactic has been used to silence dissent on social media, especially by people who highlight their alliance with hard-line clerics. Our abduction had a chilling effect, and we are all now living in forced exile. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I am stronger now and I have nothing more to lose. So I engage with everyone openly and directly, be it the military’s spokesman or the leader of the opposition party as I continue playing my role as a blogger. But our page (Mochi) is not back online because of Facebook’s pro-regime policies. We have requested multiple times that the page be restored, but Facebook doesn’t listen to us. As the founder of the page, I have the right to access my page.”

Goraya, the father of a 3-year-old son, says he employed satire on the Facebook page Mochi (Urdu for cobbler) to make fun of populist politicians and television anchors who frequently raised the threat of a military takeover to criticize rival politicians and undermine the country’s fledgling democracy.

“Unlike the traditional media, social media was not censored,” he said. “This was helpful in getting information not otherwise available to the people who needed it most. We were providing people with an alternative perspective.”

His activism was visibly effective. At its peak, Mochi attracted more than 6 million visitors every month. This outperformed many newspapers and television shows in audience numbers. Another page Goraya contributed to was called Shaour (Urdu for awareness). It was dedicated to social issues.

Goraya says he is proud of playing a critical role in shutting down scores of social media pages associated with Islamist militant groups. He says that in recent years he helped form a group of volunteers who looked for pages associated with the Taliban and other violent jihadists. They would gather and share evidence with social media giants Google, Twitter, and Facebook to urge them to shut down these pages because they engaged in hate speech.

But the abduction of the four bloggers in January had a chilling effect on social media activism. Goraya says scores of Facebook pages and Twitter feeds with tens of millions of followers have closed because of the scare their abductions created.

“You know the conditions in Pakistan well,” he said. “The safety of our friends and family is my priority. They are not safe, and they are being harassed in a million ways.”

He says he and his family were terrorized by a campaign of accusations and criticism aimed against him by some elements of the media. Following the bloggers’ abduction, some Pakistani television hosts publicly questioned their patriotism and accused Goraya and others of committing blasphemy by allegedly posting anti-Islam content on their pages.

Blasphemy charges can be deadly in Pakistan, where dozens of individuals have been killed or lynched after being accused of committing sacrilege.

Goraya strongly denies posting anything that violated Pakistani laws or Islamic injunctions.

“We will explore every legal venue against those who accused us of blasphemy,” he said. “This is important so no one can dare level such false accusations in the future.”

Goraya says the accusations forced his family to move twice in one month, and they are still facing social exclusion and strong discrimination because of the false accusations.

“Some of our radical friends and relatives accuse them of being part of what I did, and they are being threatened,” he said. “During my captivity, some of my cousins told my father they would kill me if I survived the abduction.”

Goraya says his suffering has taught him a harsh lesson about the condition of hundreds or perhaps thousands of victims of enforced disappearances. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other rights watchdogs accuse Pakistani security forces of being behind a sizeable number of enforced disappearances of suspected separatists, Islamist militants, and political activists.

“Abduction is a small thing in comparison with the torture victims endure from society and the difficulties they face in gaining justice,” he said.

Points to Ponder

Does Pakistan thinks that it can carry out Political assassinations like a Terrorist Organization in territories of other sovereign countries with impunity? If Pakistan can carry on such attacks on people in other countries, can such other countries not take help from Interpol and get the Pakistani Army Generals and all other accused arrested and presented in the courts in other countries? Will Brussels set an example by extraditing General Bajwa, Asif Gafoor and others to send a message to Pakistan that they cannot carry on these attacks on other nations soil? Will other nations also follow the suit where such Political assassinations or attacks on Human Rights Activists or Journalists have been carried out by Pakistan Intelligence agencies either themselves or via their proxies on soil of other nations? Will International community acknowledge the fact that when Human rights activists living in other countries can be attacked with impunity, what would be the state of people living in Pakistan who have dissenting opinion and different perspectives?

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