It has been a dark month for freedom of speech in Pakistan with mysterious disappearances of four bloggers and social media activists accused of writing anti-state content on their Facebook pages. The abductions, along with the government’s silence on the issue, has created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, bringing flashbacks of a totalitarian past. The further false accusations of blasphemy had created further fear that these men, even if found, would be in greater danger at the hands of an increasingly extremist and intolerant public. However, in a first positive move on its part, the government has rubbished the rumours of blasphemy. “There is no truth in [reports of] registration of cases against the missing bloggers. All these news items are ridiculous,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Khan said in a statement released by his Ministry.

Chaudhry Nisar has said that the government will make all efforts to recover the four social activists who went missing from different cities last week. The Ministry must be held to this promise, as the return of the activists is not just about saving the individual lives of these citizens, but also about the principle of the right of free speech in Pakistan. It is imperative for the ruling party, that under its rule, as a government that got power through legal democratic transition – a rare occasion in Pakistan’s history – it made sure that the constitutional rights of its citizens were respected. It is also in the interest of the military that these men return safe and unhurt, so that the accusation against the security forces for enforced disappears can be proven to be demonstrably false.

According to a spokesman of the Interior Ministry, Chaudhry Nisar also took notice of what he called ‘propaganda’ against the social media campaigners on charges of blasphemy. This issue of propaganda is at the heart of the matter, where peaceful activists have been branded traitors, not because of what they said or wrote, but because of how their ideas were misinterpreted by an unreasonable and uncritical number of people on social media. These activists, and those calling for their return have had to face countless death threats and instances of hate speech that can easily make for criminal prosecution. Yet, it seems violence and threat is a part of our culture, while peaceful dialogue and protest is not.