Pakistan army denies abducting British activist

The army is not behind the abduction of Gul Bukhari, Major General Asif Ghafoor, chief military spokesman, told reporters late Friday. (AP)
Updated 09 June 2018
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Pakistan army denies abducting British activist

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army has denied abducting a British-Pakistani activist known for criticizing the military, in an incident that prompted a wave of condemnation and increased fears of a crackdown on free speech.
Gul Bukhari, 52, was detained for several hours by unknown men in the eastern city of Lahore late Tuesday, one day after the military held a press conference warning that it is monitoring citizens who criticize Pakistan.
She was released early Wednesday.
Pakistan has a history of enforced disappearances, often of people who criticize the security establishment — largely seen as a red line few dare cross. The kidnappings have become increasingly brazen in recent years.
Bukhari is known for advocating human rights online and is also a prominent columnist whose articles are often highly critical of the military and its policies.
When news of her abduction broke it caused a furor, with widespread calls for her release and fingers broadly pointed at the military.
The British High Commission expressed “concern” at the incident as activists called on the army, which is the most powerful institution in Pakistan and has ruled the country for nearly half its 70-year history, to tolerate dissent.

Gul Bukhari. (Photo courtesy: Gul Bukhari/Twitter)

“(The) army is not behind the abduction of Gul Bukhari,” Major General Asif Ghafoor, chief military spokesman, told reporters late Friday.
“We actually want a thorough investigation in this case,” he said.
The military routinely says it is not involved in enforced disappearances, but the statement was a rare on-the-record denial.
It came as the powerful army is facing growing criticism of its policies within Pakistan, from disappearances to the use of militant proxies in Afghanistan and India.
A burgeoning civil rights movement by the country’s ethnic Pashtuns and recent comments from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif have increasingly criticized the generals and caused uproar in the country.
Journalists have spoken of “pressure” not to cover the criticisms, adding to an atmosphere of repression.
During a wide-ranging press conference Monday that appeared to address the mounting criticism, the military issued a veiled warning to online critics, saying it has the capacity to monitor social media accounts.
Ghafoor briefly flashed an image on screen showing what appeared to be Twitter handles and names, including of at least one prominent journalist, but refused to elaborate further, fueling the outcry over free speech.
Late Friday he said they “did not intend to implicate journalists.”
Activists remained skeptical of the military’s role in disappearances and curtailing of free speech.
“If they did not do it, then they need to come up with an action, a plan of enquiry (to investigate) who did,” said Shahzad Ahmed, head of Bytes for All, a think-tank working for digital security and free speech.
“So far the fingers are being pointed toward them.”


UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

Updated 19 September 2018
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UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

  • Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016
  • France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June

LONDON: Britain on Wednesday advised British-Iranian dual nationals against all but essential travel to Iran, tightening up its existing travel advice and warning it has only limited powers to support them if detained.

The advisory came in tandem with France’s decision to hold off on appointing a new ambassador to Iran, as it seeks clarification over an attempt to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June

“The Foreign Secretary (Jeremy Hunt) has taken the decision to advise against all but essential travel by UK-Iranian dual nationals to Iran,” a foreign office spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
“British citizens who also hold Iranian nationality face risks if they travel to Iran, as we have seen all too sadly in a number of cases. The Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality, so if a dual national is detained our ability to provide support is extremely limited.”
Earlier this month Britain’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt used a visit to Iran to discuss cases of detained dual nationals, alongside other diplomatic issues.
Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she headed back to Britain with her daughter, now aged four, after a family visit.
She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
Meanwhile, France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris last June, French officials said on Wednesday.
An Iranian diplomat based in Austria and three other people were arrested on suspicion of plotting the attack on a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Iran has said it had nothing to do with the plot, which it called a “false flag” operation staged by figures within the opposition group itself.
The incident has hit relations just as France and its European partners are seeking to salvage a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.
France’s ambassador to Iran departed in the summer. Iran has also yet to replace its departed ambassador to Paris.
“We have a charge d’affaires today in Tehran and there is a high-level dialogue between French and Iranian authorities,” said a French presidential source.
“We are working together to bring to light what happened around this event ... I wouldn’t say there is a direct link (in not appointing an ambassador), but Iran has promised to give us objective facts in the coming weeks that would allow us to pursue our diplomatic relationship as it is today.”
A French diplomatic source said the nomination had indeed been suspended as a result of the alleged plot.
France’s Foreign Ministry in August told its diplomats and officials to postpone non-essential travel to Iran indefinitely, citing the plot and a hardening of Tehran’s attitude toward France, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
President Emmanuel Macron is likely to discuss the issue with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when they meet on Sept. 25 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the source said.
Along with Britain and Germany, France is trying save a 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which was thrown into disarray when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord in May and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran.
Even so, tensions between Paris and Tehran have grown in recent months as Macron and his government have become increasingly frustrated with Iran’s activities in the Middle East region, in particular its ballistic missile program.