On the morning of 22 January 2017, residents of Orangi Town in Pakistan were woken up by the engine sounds of double cab vehicles entering the area. A security personnel was looking for young men, in this low-income settlement, who had returned from Syria.
They found Syed Arif Hussain, a 28-year-old Shia, who had come back from a pilgrimage to the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine in Damascus. Syed, a physiotherapist by profession, was led away by a dozen armed men, even as his 80-year-old mother Shamim Ara kept begging them to tell her where he was being taken or what allegations were against him. Two years since he hasn’t returned home.
Syed is one among 120-160 Pakistani Shias who were ‘detained’ and subsequently reported ‘missing’ in the past several years. Many were taken away on their return from Iran, Iraq or Syria.
“No one is telling us where he is. Had I known that the price of visiting Bibi’s shrine would be this, I wouldn’t have let him go. All I have been doing in the past two years is take part in protests against such disappearances. They have labeled Syed a terrorist. But he cannot even look at the sacrifice of animals during Eid ul Adha,” said Ara.
Kin of missing persons belonging to the Shia community had staged a month-long protest in front of President Arif Alvi’s residence in Karachi’s Muhammad Ali Society on 28 April but to little effect.
On 18 June, 64-year-old Allah Dino was arrested from Karachi airport when he had returned from Karbala in Iraq. He remains missing to this date. Hussain Ahmed Hussaini, a 23-year-old who was reported missing for several months was recovered in May only to be sent to jail. His mother passed away on 19 June.
There have been reports of these men being detained and kept inside torture cells but the government has been tight-lipped about it. In an interview to BBC, a Shia man, who did not wish to be identified, had said how he was kept in a “small, dark cell”, “badly tortured” and given electric shocks by security services. He also said how he was repeatedly interrogated about the Zainabiyoun Brigade — a secret militia in Syria which is thought to be fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Shia activist Samar Abbas, who is known to be critical of Pakistan’s military establishment, was similarly taken away in January 2017 and held for 14 months. He, along with a few other bloggers, was released after a public outcry post in March 2018. Abbas’ brother-in-law (name not known to ThePrint) was also detained and is still reported to be missing.
03 Jul 19/Wednesday Source theprint