ISLAMABAD: The top social media activist of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Friday he had safely returned home after he went missing last week.
The development comes after the PTI announced nationwide protests over the “abduction” of its social media team members amid growing political crisis in the South Asian country.
The PTI said that several of its social media team members, including focal person to Khan, Azhar Mashwani, had gone “missing” from different cities this month. According to the party, Mashwani went disappeared from outside his Lahore residence on March 23.
The party launched a major social media campaign, denouncing Mashwani’s disappearance and urging its supporters to hold demonstrations across the country at 3pm on Friday for the recovery of the missing social media team. However, Mashwani used his Twitter account in the afternoon to announce his return.
“Praise be to God, I have just returned home safe and sound,” he said while addressing PTI supporters. “Your prayers, efforts and support in these eight days have indebted me forever.”
Mashwani also prayed for an early recovery of other social media activists belonging to his party.
The PTI has maintained an effective social media presence over the past decade and shaped narratives to garner public support in the past. For this, its social media activists are believed to have a played a vital role.
However, the party has also been accused by the authorities of hiring “trolls” to target its opponents.
The caretaker administration in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province this week said it was gathering evidence against the PTI for using taxpayers’ money to recruit social media trolls and would soon assign the case to Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for probe.
Earlier, Police and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said they had no information about the whereabouts of these PTI social media team members, raising fears they might be in custody of the Pakistani intelligence agencies.
Pakistan has a long history of forced disappearances, wherein political workers, rights activists and individuals with dissenting views have gone missing, particularly in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southwestern Balochistan provinces. The agencies deny any involvement.
Some of the former prime minister’s close aides were also picked up by the police following his ouster from power in a no-trust vote in April last year.
Khan himself has also been facing a slew of cases across the country, with charges against him ranging from terrorism to sedition.