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Fears grow for Pakistani journalist missing in Sweden

S. Khan Islamabad
April 7, 2020

Activists and journalists worldwide have criticized the Swedish government for its failure to find Sajid Baloch. The exiled journalist, who reported on Pakistan's human rights violations, had sought asylum in Sweden.

 Fears grow for Pakistani journalist missing in Sweden
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Pakistani journalists and rights groups have called on Swedish authorities to step up efforts to find missing journalist Sajid Hussain Baloch, who disappeared from the Swedish city of Uppsala on March 2. 

Baloch, 39, was last seen boarding a train in Stockholm on his way to Uppsala, and Swedish police filed a case over his disappearance the following day, according to the Paris-based non-governmental organization, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Baloch's relatives claim that the Swedish government has not taken the disappearance serious enough and fear for Baloch's life. Wajid Baloch, the brother of the missing journalist, told DW: "The family is extremely concerned over the safety of Sajid and furious over the slow pace of the investigation. There are so many things that could help locating him."

He added, "If anything happens to our brother, then Swedish police should be ready to take the blame because we have done everything to make them realize the seriousness of the matter."

RSF said it was a possibility that the journalist, who reported on Pakistan's human rights abuses, had been abducted "at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency."

Baloch, who was also a masters student specializing in Iranian languages at a university in Uppsala, had been living in Stockholm due to a shortage of available rooms in Uppsala. He then found a vacant room and planned to move there on March 2 but went missing on the same day.

Read more: Pakistan's new internet laws tighten control over social media

Pakistan's separatist insurgency

Baloch settled in Sweden in 2017 after his escape from Pakistan's Balochistan province in 2012.

Balochistan — the country's largest province by area — borders Afghanistan and Iran. The region has been dealing with various levels of insurgency and witnessed a number of terror attacks in the last 15 years.

The province has seen the presence of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, IS militants, and other extremist groups. Meanwhile, Baloch separatists have been fighting the Pakistani state, seeking to separate what they see as their homeland from the Islamic Republic.

Rights groups have accused the Pakistani government, including the army and intelligence agencies, of human rights violations and enforced disappearances. Thousands, including political activists, have been missing for years. Islamabad has strongly rejected the claims, accusing its archrival India of igniting separatist chaos in the province.

Rights groups have accused the Pakistani government, including the army and intelligence agencies, of human rights violations and enforced disappearances in Balochistan
Rights groups accuse the Pakistani government of human rights violations and enforced disappearances in BalochistanImage: Abdul Ghani Kakar

Crackdown on free speech

A father of two, Sajid Baloch had lived in exile in several countries before seeking asylum in Sweden. He escaped Pakistan after receiving threats related to his reporting on the separatist conflict in Balochistan.

Baloch had worked for leading English-language dailies in Pakistan, including The News and The Daily Times. He was also the editor-in-chief of the Balochistan Times, a news website covering human rights violations and drug smuggling problems in the province. The news platform is no longer accessible in Pakistan.

Read more: Pakistan: A sympathetic ear for journalists in distress

Asad Butt, an officer at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan — an independent rights watch dog — feels baffled as to why Swedish authorities have been unable to trace Baloch.

"Sweden is an excellent democracy where human rights issues really matter," Butt said. "We appeal to the Swedish government to make efforts for his safe recovery besides demanding the Pakistani government to take up the matter with Stockholm because the missing journalist is also our citizen, " he said.

Calls to speed up investigation

Pakistan's Federal Union of Journalists has also demanded that the Swedish government ups its efforts to trace Baloch.

In a joint statement, president of the union Shahzada Zuilfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said Sweden's slow investigation progress is raising  concerns among Pakistan's journalist community. They urged Pakistan's Foreign Ministry to offer support in finding Baloch by cooperating with Swedish authorities.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also called on the Swedish police to speed up its investigation.

"Swedish police should step up efforts to find Sajid Hussain Baloch … The disappearance of a journalist who focused on one of Pakistan's most sensitive issues — human rights in Balochistan — and who escaped Pakistan because of threats he received — is especially concerning," Steven Butler, CPJ's coordinator for its Asia Program, said in a statement issued on March 30. 

Baloch's family and friends have set up an online campaign to help with the search.

Taj Baloch, a close friend of the missing journalist, told DW: "He was with me until the noon of March 2 and I could have never imagined that he would go missing in this country. He is a non-political guy who has a flair for languages and literature. It is difficult to understand the factors leading to his disappearance."