A drone victim, journalist and activist who has spoken out against drone strikes in Pakistan, who was abducted from his home over one week ago, has been released.
Kareem Khan, who has been pushing a legal case against the CIA and Pakistan government for killing his son and brother with a drone in December 2009, was abducted in the early hours of February 5 by at fifteen to twenty men. Some of them, family members said, were wearing police uniforms.
According to the human rights organization, Reprieve, Khan was taken to a cell in an “undisclosed location.” Later that day, on February 5, he was “blindfolded and driven for approximately 2-3 hours to another undisclosed location where he remained until his release.”
“While detained, Mr Khan was interrogated, beaten and tortured. He was placed in chains and repeatedly questioned about his investigations into drone strikes, his knowledge of drone strike victims and his work advocating on their behalf,” Reprieve reported.
Khan was driven to the Tarnol area nearby Rawalpindi, where he lives. His kidnappers threw him from the van and warned him “not to speak to the media.”
Prior to his abduction, Khan was due to fly to Europe and address German, Dutch and British parliamentarians about his experience with drone strikes and the work he has done as a journalist investigating strikes in the region. Also, according to Al Jazeera, he was to speak to “UK legislators in London and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”
Both UK legislator Tom Watson and German MP Hans-Christian Strobele, who invited Khan to come speak to parliamentarians, said after he disappeared, they were concerned. Watson stated, “Given the timing, I am concerned that there may be a connection between his disappearance and his intention to speak to members of parliament. I urge both the UK and Pakistani governments to do everything in their power to secure Kareem’s release and support his visit to parliament.”
Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer who has represented Khan (and also a Reprieve fellow), had been in the Lahore High Court earlier this week. He convinced a judge to order the Ministry of Interior, which oversees Pakistan’s intelligence services, to produce him for the court by February 20.
He told Agence France-Presse that Khan was “pretty shaken up, tortured, beaten up, questioned, put in a cell, and handcuffed.” He was interrogated about “names and people in Waziristan.” He was asked about the names of people he knew nothing about. He was “questioned about his drone work and was told not to speak to the media otherwise they will come back for him.”
Activists around the world, including the peace group CODEPINK in the United States, mobilized to pressure world leaders to help find Khan. Secretary of State John Kerry and the US ambassador to Pakistan were urged to do whatever they could to have Khan freed.
According to Khan, “When I was picked up I thought I would never see my family again, that I would never be free again because of all the stories I have heard about disappeared people. Now that I have been released and have seen the news, the efforts of activists, I know it is because of [activists] that I am free, and I would like to thank them.”
Disappearances are a common state tactic in Pakistan. Akbar told Al Jazeera there are “over 900 pending cases of people allegedly kidnapped by government agencies.” In fact, last month, a law was passed that makes it permissible for security forces in the country to hold “terror suspects for up to 90 days without disclosing their whereabouts or allegations against them.”
“What happened to Kareem Khan in last few days is nothing new in Pakistan,” Akbar declared, after he was freed. “We are living in a state of lawlessness where the executive enjoys impunity.
“The lesson learned though this experience is that we must always raise our voices. We need to take this stand for each and every person who disappears. It is the only way to force those in power to listen. That is why I am so thankful to all the local and international activists who spoke out for Kareem,” he added.”
Kat Craig, Reprieve legal director, was relieved Khan had been released and was still alive. However, the abuse he endured in illegal detention was a deep concern.
“No one should have to suffer as he and his family have done for simply trying to get to the truth about the deaths of their loved ones. Serious questions remain for the Pakistani Government on how this was allowed to happen,” Craig declared.
As of this moment, the clear act intended to put fear into Khan has not worked. Khan still intends to travel to Europe to speak to parliamentarians. Now, after his abduction, his words will have even greater resonance because speaking out in Pakistan on drones, if one is effective in their advocacy, can lead to one being disappeared, detained, tortured and threatened with further abuse or death if they do not silence themselves.