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Pakistan activist Salman Haider found, returned home

Pakistani activist Salman Haider had gone missing from the capital, Islamabad, earlier this month, along with four other rights campaigners. Their disappearance sparked nationwide protests and military crackdown fears.

Salman Haider, a rights activist and university lecturer who went missing earlier this month, was returned back to his family late Friday night.

Senior authorities and relatives confirmed to local and international media that Haider had returned to his home on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad. He was said to be safe and well. 

"Police sources have confirmed that he has been returned and also that his physical condition is okay," local news channel Geo News reported on Saturday. "Police say he was returned to Islamabad last night."

Authorities have not given further details on how Haider was found, and the activist has not yet given a statement to police on his disappearance.

Mass disappearances

Haider, along with fellow liberal activists Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed and Ahmad Raza Naseer, went missing from various cities in Pakistan between January 4 and 7.

All men had been vocal campaigners for human rights and religious freedoms. The men had also published blogs criticizing the military's political influence and speaking up for the rights of religious minorities.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the other men have also returned home. However, the source spoke to news agency AP on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Pakistan vermisster Aktivist Salman Haider zurückgekehrt (picture alliance/AP Photo/A. Naveed)

Pakistani journalists gather outside the home of Salman Haider amid reports that he was been recovered.

Police involvement?

No group as claimed responsibility for the five men's disappearances. However, rights group Human Right Watch said their near simultaneous disappearance suggested that state or military forces may have been complicit.

Pakistan has routinely ranked among the world's most dangerous countries for reporters, who find themselves caught between the powerful military forces and militant groups such as the Taliban.

Criticism directed at Pakistan's powerful military, which dictates the country's security policies, has often seen journalists detained, beaten and even killed.

Pakistan Protest - Aktivist Salman Haider verschwunden (Getty Images/AFP/A. Hassan)

Hundreds of people gathered earlier this month to demand the return of liberal bloggers. Many accused the state of being complicit in their disappearance.

Protests and counterprotests

The five bloggers' disappearance had sparked fierce demonstrations among liberal groups in major cities across Pakistan.

However, the men's liberal secularist views have often proven divisive, and those demonstrations were met by a counterprotests and a virulent social media campaign painting them as blasphemers.

Blasphemy charges can carry a mandatory death penalty, while even unproven allegations have stirred murders and even mob lynchings.

Friends, family and supporters of all five men deny the allegations and denounced the campaign as a threat on their lives.

dm/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)