LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) - A British-Pakistani activist known for her criticism of Pakistan's military was briefly abducted late on Tuesday (June 6) by unknown men in the eastern city of Lahore, her family said, prompting fears she had been forcibly disappeared.
Gul Bukhari, 52, was detained for several hours by unknown men one day after the powerful military held a press conference warning that it is monitoring citizens who criticise Pakistan, amid a growing crackdown on free speech in the country.
Bukhari was on her way to a television news station in Lahore where she was due to appear as an analyst on a late night show when she was stopped, her husband Ali Nadir told AFP.
"She left around 10:40 pm for Waqt News but was apparently picked up on the way. It seems to be plainclothes people but we don't have any more info," he said in a WhatsApp message.
He later confirmed that she had been freed, but could not immediately provide further details.
Sources at Waqt News said the kidnapping had taken place inside an army-controlled part of the city.
Bukhari released a statement hours after being released, thanking friends and colleagues for their support during the ordeal.
"I would like to express my deep gratitude and love to my friends, family, colleagues & supporters in civil society, journalism and politics across the board, for coming together in solidarity in concern for my well being last night," read the statement.
"I am well, and would request privacy at this stage," she said.
The British High Commission in Islamabad said Wednesday that it was aware of the reported incident and "reaching out with consular assistance".
"We are very concerned at reports of Gul Bukhari's abduction last night," the High Commission said in a statement posted on Twitter.
News of her abduction caused a furore on social media.
Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said it was "extremely disturbing" and the "worst kind of oppression".
Newspaper editor and analyst Raza Ahmad Rumi tweeted: "Dissenters are not a threat. Healthy societies allow critical voices to foster/retain a pluralist culture."
And the Committee to Protect Journalists said it was "alarmed" by the report of her abduction. "Pakistani journalists have seen enough tragedy," the watchdog tweeted.
Bukhari is known for advocating human rights online and is also a prominent columnist whose articles are often highly critical of the military and its policies.
MONITORING SOCIAL MEDIA
Pakistan has had a history of enforced disappearances over the past decade, mainly confined to conflict zones near the Afghanistan border or to the restive south-western Balochistan province.
However, in recent years, a growing number of such abductions have taken place brazenly in major urban centres such as Karachi, Lahore and even the capital Islamabad.
They have also increasingly targeted activists and journalists critical of the state and the military's policies, largely seen as a red line few dare cross.
The military routinely denies being involved.
Some of those who have been released in the past have described being tortured, though many remain reluctant to name their abductors.
Others remain missing, like activist Raza Khan who disappeared in December 2017.
However, a burgeoning civil rights movement by the country's ethnic Pashtuns and recent comments from former PM Sharif have increasingly criticised the security establishment and its policies, including disappearances.
During a press conference on Monday, the military issued a veiled warning to online critics. "We have the capability to monitor social media as to who is doing what," military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said.