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Missing Pakistani activists' families decry blasphemy allegations


Reuters
ISLAMABAD
Families and supporters of five missing Pakistani activists on Wednesday denounced what they called a campaign to accuse the men of blasphemy, a highly charged allegation that could endanger their lives were they to reappear.
The accusations, made online and in a complaint to police, have unsettled Pakistan's small community of social activists.
The families of two of the missing men, Salman Haider and Waqass Goraya, described them as part of a 'malicious campaign'.
"This campaign can only be meant to divert public sympathy away from our plight and the plight of our loved ones, who have been illegally abducted," the two families said in a statement handed out at a press conference in the capital, Islamabad.
Associates and supporters of all five men deny they have blasphemed.
The liberal activists disappeared since Jan 4, and some rights groups and newspapers have questioned whether state or military agencies were in some way involved.
Pakistan's Interior Ministry has said it is seeking information and the Federal Investigation Agency says it has not arrested them. Other state agencies and the country's military declined to comment.
Haider, a leftist writer and professor, disappeared in early January as did liberal bloggers Goraya, Aasim Saeed and Ahmed Raza Naseer, as well as Samar Abbas, head of an anti-extremism activist group in Karachi.
All were reported missing separately by their families within a week of each other.
In recent days, the missing activists have been accused of blasphemy in online posts and by at least three television commentators.
Haider Shah, of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan, said the blasphemy allegations endangered the activists.
Even if they were freed without charge, they could be targeted by extremists who believe violence is justified to defend Islam, he added.
In 2011, a Pakistani governor, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his bodyguard after calling for reform of the blasphemy laws. His killer was hailed a hero by religious hardliners, and tens of thousands of supporters attended his funeral after he was executed last year.
One of the first blasphemy allegations appeared on Jan 9 on the pro-military Pakistan Defence page on Facebook.
The anonymous Urdu-language post displayed photos of Haider, Goraya and Saeed linking them with a Facebook group called Bhensa, which it said contained 'blasphemy toward the Koran'.
When contacted by Reuters via email, an anonymous administrator for Pakistan Defence said the Facebook page and website were an 'open source debate platform' and that comments were linked to members who 'contribute anonymously'.

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