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As the International Day of the Disappeared is marked around the world, Pakistan’s authorities must promptly, thoroughly and effectively investigate the abduction and suspected enforced disappearance of Zeenat Shahzadi, Amnesty International said today.

Just over a year ago, on 19 August 2015, Zeenat Shahzadi, a 24-year-old journalist, was on her way to work in Lahore on an auto-rickshaw when she was abducted by armed gunmen. She has not been seen or heard from since. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan believes she was subject to an enforced disappearance by security forces.

“Zeenat Shahzadi is the first female journalist suspected to have been subject to an enforced disappearance in Pakistan. Her case highlights how this cruel practice is being used against a broader range of people, even as hundreds, possibly thousands of cases of disappearances remain unresolved,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director.

Zeenat Shahzadi’s disappearance happened mere days before she was supposed to give evidence on the disappearance of Hamid Ansari, an Indian national, whose case she had been investigating and reporting on.

Over the past decade, human rights organizations have been alarmed by the proliferation of enforced disappearances in Pakistan which amount to a climate of impunity.

According to the Pakistan government-sponsored Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances – which is investigating the case of Zeenat Shahzadi – 1,417 out of a total of more than 3,000 cases are still pending.

“In Pakistan, journalists face serious threats to their freedom of expression and their physical safety, from both armed groups and security forces. The government has a duty to protect journalists who are doing their jobs, and hold accountable those responsible for violating their rights,” said Champa Patel.

Pakistan’s Commission on Enforced Disappearances last met to discuss Zeenat Shahzadi’s case earlier this month. According to lawyers familiar with the case, there has been no progress so far. The Joint Investigation Team – comprised of civilian and military officials – has been tasked with submitting a fresh report. As yet, the Joint Investigation Team has failed to identify any suspects.

Zeenat Shahzadi’s disappearance has exacted a great toll on her family. In March 2016, her teenage brother, Saddam, took his own life. The siblings’ mother, Kaneez Bibi, said that Saddam was unable to cope with the loss of his sister.

The family has called on the Pakistani Prime Minister, the Army Chief, and the Interior Minister to ensure Zeenat is recovered safely. They have received no reply. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has also called on the government to investigate her case.

“Pakistan should sign and ratify without reservations the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances. If the country wishes to be seen as a modern, rights-respecting nation, then it should break with its ugly history of enforced disappearances and make the safe recovery of possibly thousands of people still unaccounted for a priority,” said Champa Patel.

Background

Who is Zeenat Shahzadi?

Zeenat Shahzadi was abducted as she was tracking another disappearance. As a journalist working for the Daily Nai Khabar and Metro News in Lahore, she became interested in reporting on the case of Hamid Ansari, an Indian national who went missing in 2012.

Hamid Ansari has since been located. He is currently in Peshawar jail, serving a three-year prison term for allegedly “spying” and entering the country illegally.

Zeenat Shahzadi was due to appear before Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances on 24 August 2015 to give evidence into the case of Hamid Ansari. She was last seen just nine days before.

The Lahore rickshaw driver who had been driving Zeenat Shahzadi to work said that the journey was interrupted when two cars swerved and blocked the road ahead of them. Armed men, dressed in civilian clothes, got out of the cars and abducted Zeenat Shahzadi from the rickshaw.

Zeenat Shahzadi’s family have told the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan that she had been detained and interrogated by security officials for four hours about her work on Hamid Ansari’s case a few days before her disappearance.

Hina Jilani of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has said: “There are strong indications that this is the work of some government agencies.”

What is the International Day of the Disappeared?

On 30 August each year, Amnesty International marks the ‘International Day of the Disappeared’, calling on its millions of supporters around the world to press governments who resort to enforced disappearances to stop using this cruel tactic once and for all.

Enforced disappearances are a violation of human rights and a crime under international law. Pakistan has yet to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED).

The CPED prohibits enforced disappearance, which it defines as: “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”