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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (file photo)

In a thinly veiled warning to right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister VIktor Orban, the European Union's executive said on March 31 that emergency measures adopted by member states to fight the coronavirus crisis cannot undercut democracy.

"It is of utmost importance that emergency measures are not at the expense of our fundamental principles and values...Democracy cannot work without free and independent media," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

The statement came a day after Hungary's parliament approved legislation giving Orban sweeping new powers under -- and possibly beyond -- the country's state of emergency to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Von der Leyen did not name Hungary but her statement will nevertheless be seen as a rebuke to Orban's adoption of rule by decree.

"Any emergency measures must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate. They must not last indefinitely," von der Leyen said.

In Hungary's southern neighbor, Serbia, which is not an EU member but aspires to join the 27-member bloc , President Aleksandar Vucic announced an open-ended state of emergency on March 15 and parliament has been sidelined.

Vucic has assumed full power, prompting an outcry from opponents who say he has seized control of the state in an unconstitutional manner.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP
Sajid Hussain disappeared on March 2.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) suspects that a Pakistani journalist who has been missing for a month in Sweden was abducted "at the behest" of an intelligence agency in Pakistan.

Sajid Hussain, the editor of the Balochistan Times news website, went missing in the Swedish city of Uppsala on March 2, according to the website, which covered human right violations and other aspects of the situation in the southwestern Pakistani region.

"Considering the recent attacks and harassment against other Pakistani journalists in Europe, we cannot ignore the possibility that his disappearance is related to his work," Erik Halkjaer, the president of RSF's Swedish section, said in a statement on March 30.

Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said that "everything indicates that this is an enforced disappearance," adding, "And if you ask yourself who would have an interest in silencing a dissident journalist, the first response would have to be the Pakistani intelligence services."

The Balochistan Times "often crossed the 'red lines' imposed by the military establishment in Islamabad," according to the Paris-based media-freedom watchdog.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also urged Swedish police to step up efforts to find Hussain

"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," said Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator.

Hussain fled Pakistan in 2012 after receiving threats related to his reporting, and lived in exile in several countries before seeking asylum in Sweden in 2017, according to news reports.

No one has heard from Hussain since he boarded a train in Stockholm on March 2 to go to Uppsala, 70 kilometers north of the Swedish capital, to collect the keys to his new apartment and leave some personal effects there, RSF said.

It quoted local police as saying that Hussain, who has political-refugee status in Sweden, did alight from the train in Uppsala 45 minutes after it left Stockholm.

Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan has been plagued by sectarian violence, Islamist militant attacks, and a separatist insurgency that has led to thousands of casualties since 2004.

Successive Pakistani governments and the powerful military have been accused for years of censoring the media.

The country is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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