LAHORE: A social activist Raza Mehmood Khan has gone missing from Pakistan’s Lahore city following a discussion session on the topic of extremism. The activist had held the meeting in the context of a recent sit-in staged by religious parties in Faizabad, Islamabad, and the State’s subsequent capitulation to it. “After the end of our meeting at 8:00 p.m. on December 2, Saturday night, we left the office and never heard from Raza after that,” his colleague and friend anonymously said on the phone. Raza helps manage progressive space Lowkey Lokai that brings people together for dialogues and debates on issues critical for building a peaceful society. All events held at Lowkey Lokai are public and open. He also became the convener of Aghaz-e-Dosti in May 2017, an initiative to bring Indian and Pakistani students closer. Further, Raza and a group of young activists from Lahore registered an organization named Hum Sab Aik Hain, which aims to promote peace and harmony. A native of Kasur district in Punjab, Raza Khan, has been a resident of Lahore almost for two decades. The forty years old activist began his activism by supporting the Lawyers’ Movement in 2007 for which he was arrested and spent two to three months in jail. Later on, Raza joined social change organizations such as the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies. IPSS is a local advocacy organization founded and run by the veteran and brave human rights defender, Deep Saeeda, on issues of democracy and human rights. I met Raza about eight years ago at IPSS’s meetings at Al-Qadeer Heights in Gulberg, Lahore. Shockingly last night, our mutual friend, also based in Lahore, told me that Raza has gone missing since December 2. According to this friend, the event attendees had seen Raza last around 8:00 p.m. near Al-Qadeer Heights, which is the location of his office. Since then, his whereabouts remain unknown, and his phone numbers have remained switched off. She said, “We got worried about not being in contact with him for more than 24 hours and decided to search for him. During this course, we contacted all his friends, his family and also his neighbours, but no one has any information about him.” Further, she reported, “At his residence, we found Raza’s door locked from outside, but noticed that the light was still on in his room. Upon breaking the lock in the presence of police, we found his clothes lying around, but no valuable things were taken except his computer’s CPU.” After exhausting all their efforts and eventually realizing that he was indeed missing, they had gone to the police station where his brother Hamid Nasir Mehmood had complained about Raza being abducted by unknown persons for unknown reasons. The complaint was submitted late on the evening of December 3, 2017. The police were initially reluctant in registering the case, however, upon Raza’s brother and friend’s insistence, they had recorded the FIR on the morning of December 5, 2017. As of now, the police are investigating the case. When asked if the missing activist had any family disputes and hence could be a victim of it, his friend said: “I do not think there is a possibility of any such thing because I know Raza almost for a decade.” In response to the question about previous threats from anywhere, she said, “We were not aware of any serious threats to his safety, but we did have an inkling of pressure and intrusion in our work from the State’s intelligence agencies.” However, she stressed that he is very outspoken and critical of the rise of religious extremism and the role of the military establishment in politics. For instance, in the recent meeting on disturbing developments in Islamabad and other major urban centres of the country as a result of the sit-in by religious parties, he was very candid and critical about both military and religious groups. Although there is lack of evidence of who has abducted Raza, one can not be mistaken about the fact that the criticism of the State’s intelligence agencies and advocacy for warmer ties with India has been a definite cause of safety concern for peace activists in Pakistan. This is precisely why the fight of secularists in Pakistan has hardly gotten any traction. Instead, as the situation in the country has worsened and reversed politically, resistance to the secular-minded civil society from the extreme religious right and some segments of the State has toughened. Even the PTI chief Imran Khan recently accused liberal Pakistanis of wanting bloodshed in the country. Hence, the space for freedom has shrunk and the harassment and disappearance of journalists and freethinkers have continued unabated. A recent Dawn report states, “According to the Inquiry Commission on Enforced Disappearances, 728 Pakistanis were added to the ‘missing persons’ list in 2016 ─ the highest number in at least six years ─ bringing the total to 1,219.” Earlier this year, five high-profile abductions of social media activists triggered protests across the country. While four of these activists were freed, no one knows about the whereabouts of the fifth one, Syed Samar Abbas, president of the Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan. The most tragic part of this blatant disappearances curse is the apparent denial of institutions responsible for recognizing the problem and bringing it to a halt. The oft-repeated claim of the State’s systems that they “don’t know who is behind the enforced disappearances” cannot be any shallower in the face of human suffering and devastation of families, let alone the destruction of the social fabric of the country. The good news, however, is that Pakistan’s civil society is stronger than ever. The Naya Daur –literally, Modern Time in English, an initiative of progressive Pakistani citizens to effect social change– took to Twitter with video campaign to appeal the State for Raza’s swift recovery. The brave activists have once again shown that the coward acts of mindless thuggery can not silence them. And ultimately, it is the state’s responsibility to recover Raza and missing activists before him and bring those responsible to justice.