Who abducted Pakistani journalist Matiullah Jan? And why?

Matiullah has long been a fierce critic of Islamabad’s twin power centers, the higher judiciary and the military establishment.

WrittenBy:Umer Farooq
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Matiullah Jan, the Pakistani journalist who was briefly abducted from Islamabad on July 21, has a reputation as an interrogator of power, relentlessly questioning the political, military, media and judicial elite. Not surprisingly then, Islamabad’s powerful have always regarded Matiullah’s presence as thoroughly irritating.

Two years ago, Matiullah was forced to end his show on a local TV news channel where he asked uncomfortable questions of political and military leaders. His weekly column in a newspaper run by the same media group was discontinued as well, and he was asked to resign.

Matiullah then launched a YouTube channel, which again brought him to the dangerous terrain of criticising the twin power centers of Islamabad – the higher judiciary and the military establishment.

The son of a decorated army colonel, Matiullah underwent training at the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, but dropped out after one and a half years.

Matiullah, 50, lives in a town called Bara Khuoo on the outskirts of Islamabad. He was abducted from outside a government school in the capital’s Sector where his wife, Kaneez Sughra, teaches.

CCTV camera footage shows three vehicles blocking Matiullah’s car as he drives out of the school’s front gate after dropping his wife off. A group of armed men, uniformed and in plainclothes, climb out of the vehicles and seem to demand that Matiullah get out of his car. Maitullah resists, and they manhandle him. In the scuffle, the journalist tosses his phone over the school’s boundary wall, presumably hoping that it would be found and delivered to his wife. Soon, however, a guard at the school emerges with the phone and hands it over to the armed men in uniform.

Matiullah’s family came to know about the abduction only when they found his car parked outside the school, keys in the ignition and a second cell phone hidden under the driver’s seat. His son used Matiullah’s Twitter account to release the news.

Not long after, Pakistan’s information minister, Sibli Faraz, confirmed that the journalist had been kidnapped but said he didn’t know who was behind it.

Matiullah’s brother then filed a writ petition in the Islamabad High Court pleading for his safe return. In response, Chief Justice Athar Minallah ordered the authorities concerned to produce Matiullah before the court on Wednesday.

Matiullah, however, returned home Tuesday night. He told Geo News that he was blindfolded by his abductors and taken to an unknown location. He was then driven around Islamabad before being released in a deserted area in Fateh Jang, a suburb of the capital, where some residents helped him reach home.

In the afternoon, while Matiullah was still missing, Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and his wife Sarina Isa visited his house to express solidarity with his family.

Unusual as the visit was, it did not surprise Islamabad’s political and media circles. After all, it was primarily Matiullah’s vocal support for the judge while he was being tried by the Supreme Judicial Council that was believed to have landed him in trouble.

Isa was tried by the Supreme Judicial Council, a disciplinary body that is empowered by the constitution to remove superior court judges, earlier this year for allegedly failing to explain how his wife had acquired a property in London. In reality, it’s widely suspected, Isa was being hauled up for writing a judgement that severely criticised the military and its intelligence agencies for helping extremist religious groups bring their supporters to the capital to protest against the Nawaz Sharif government in 2017. Last month, the Supreme Court ended proceedings against Isa in the Supreme Judicial Council, but ordered the verification of offshore properties held by his wife and children. Isa has sought a review of the June 19 order.

Throughout Isa’s trial, Matiullah maintained, on his YouTube channel and Twitter, that there was a conspiracy to unseat him because he was on track to become the chief justice of Pakistan in a year, “and that would be the day of victory of democracy in Pakistan”.

About a week ago, Matiullah’s tweet alleging that Isa had been stabbed in the back by seven “brother judges” who ordered the Federal Board of Revenue to probe his family’s properties prompted Pakistan’s chief justice to initiate contempt proceedings against him. The journalist was scheduled to appear before the top court on coming Friday.

There’s hardly any doubt that Matiullah was abducted by one or the other of the military’s intelligence agencies. But nobody is willing to speak this truth. Not even Matiullah; all his statements to the media since his release skip the question of who took him away. Pakistan’s news outlets are known for speculating about everything under the sun, but they have kept quiet this time.

Though the government remains tightlipped about the identity of the kidnappers, senior officials have begun leaking stories to their favorite journalists to divert attention away from intelligence agencies. The ascendency of the military establishment in the political life of Pakistan has coincided with a rise in the enforced disappearance of public figures. Thousands of cases of enforced disappearances across the country remain unsolved.

Islamabad’s journalist community unanimously condemned Matiullah’s abduction, although many influential journalists expressed displeasure about his style of journalism. His style of questioning on camera is too intrusive and abrasive, they said.

There is, however, no dearth of supporters of Matiullah’s work among fellow journalists.

Matiullah started out in journalism as the Islamabad correspondent of a newspaper based in Peshawar in the early 1990s. He went over to TV in the early 2000s. The medium suited his intrusive style of questioning, often ambushing political leaders right outside the parliament. He has stuck to this style after shifting to YouTube, where his channel gets thousands of hits daily.


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