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Kashmiri Poet Ahmed Farhad Declared a Case of Enforced Disappearance by Islamabad High Court

In a significant ruling on Monday, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) declared Kashmiri poet Ahmed Farhad as an enforced disappearance or missing person until he safely returns home. The decision, reported by Dawn, came amidst mounting pressure from human rights organizations and activists calling for Farhad’s release.

The court’s written order from the Friday hearing stated, “Syed Farhad Ali Shah is declared an enforced disappearance/missing person until he reaches his home safely.” Justice Kayani emphasized that once Farhad returns home, the investigation officer of Islamabad’s Lohi Bher police station must record his statement “under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) before a judicial magistrate and proceed with the investigation as a result.”

Call for a Larger Bench to Address Enforced Disappearances

Justice Kayani also proposed that all cases of enforced disappearance sub judice before the IHC be consolidated and presented to IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq. He suggested the formation of a larger bench to hear these cases, recognizing the matter’s significant public interest. “Using his administrative powers, [the Chief Justice] may form a larger bench so that this matter of public interest can be dealt with in a better way,” Kayani directed.

Ahmed Farhad, allegedly abducted from his home on May 15, has been the focus of intense advocacy by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which has called for his immediate release. Farhad’s wife filed a petition the same day, urging the court to produce him and take action against those responsible for his disappearance.

In addressing Farhad’s case, Justice Kayani framed 12 critical questions, primarily concerning the functions and obligations of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies — the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI), and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). These questions are indicative of broader concerns about the roles these agencies play in enforced disappearances.

Government Admission and Legal Struggles

Farhad’s case took a significant turn on May 29, when the government informed the court that the poet was in the custody of Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir police. He was reportedly detained under charges of obstructing public servants’ duties, a revelation that highlighted the complexities and jurisdictional challenges in his case.

Farhad’s bail plea was previously rejected by a special anti-terrorism court in Pakistan-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK). The court ruled that the legal arguments presented by his counsel did not apply, as per a prior report by Dawn. Despite these legal setbacks, Farhad’s case continues to draw attention due to his vocal criticism of Pakistani oppression and his prominent role in reporting on protests and violence in Muzaffarabad.

Farhad’s abduction has drawn international scrutiny, particularly after footage surfaced on social media showing him reciting his own couplets in court, even while in chains. This act of defiance underscores the resilience of journalists and poets in the face of severe repression in Pakistan and its occupied territories.

Wider Implications for Press Freedom and Human Rights

The abduction and subsequent legal battles of Ahmed Farhad are emblematic of the broader challenges faced by journalists and activists in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. This region is marked by political tensions and ongoing human rights concerns, with countless journalists and civil society members facing significant obstacles, including censorship, travel restrictions, and threats from state agencies.

Farhad, a 38-year-old resident of the Bagh district, is renowned for his fearless criticism of Pakistan’s influential establishment and military. His recent reports on the protests and violence in Muzaffarabad have further amplified his prominence and, consequently, the threats against him.

For decades, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have been accused of involvement in forced disappearances and the suppression of dissenting voices in occupied regions. These actions are seen as part of a broader strategy to maintain control over these territories and silence opposition.

The international community and human rights organizations continue to call for greater accountability and transparency from Pakistan regarding enforced disappearances.

The Islamabad High Court’s recent ruling in Ahmed Farhad’s case may serve as a crucial step towards addressing these grave human rights violations and ensuring the safety and freedom of expression for all journalists and activists in the region.

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