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Matiullah Jan has previously been intimidated, harassed, and attacked, friends say.

A prominent Pakistani journalist known for his criticism of the country's powerful military has been kidnapped, raising concerns his life may be in danger.

Matiullah Jan, one of the country's leading journalists, was abducted on July 21 in the capital, Islamabad, by several men after they intercepted his car, his colleague Asad Toor said.

Footage from surveillance cameras showed men dragging a driver out of his vehicle and pushing him into another car before driving away. Jan's wife said the first car in the video belonged to her husband.

Information Minister Shibli Faraz would only confirm that Jan had been kidnapped.

Leading politicians, activists, and journalists took to Twitter to call for the journalist's release, with the hashtag #BringBackMatiullah trending in the country, while the Austrian-based International Press Institute (IPI) demanded that Jan be freed.

“We fear that Matiullah Jan’s life is in danger, and immediate steps must be taken to locate him and ensure his release from his apparent kidnappers,” IPP Deputy Director Scott Griffen said in a statement. “Given the history of violence against journalists in Pakistan, the authorities cannot delay in seeking to protect Jan’s safety.”

Jan, who has worked as a print and broadcast journalist for the past three decades, has previously been intimidated, harassed, and attacked, his friend Azaz Syed said.

After being fired by Pakistan's Waqt TV station, allegedly under pressure from the military -- a frequent target of his criticism -- he continued to maintain a voice via social media, including on YouTube and Twitter, even receiving a contempt of court notice earlier this month for a tweet.

Criticism of the army has long been seen as a red line for the media, with journalists and bloggers inside Pakistan complaining of intimidation tactics including kidnappings, beatings, and even killings if they cross that line.

The military has an oversized role in the domestic and foreign affairs of the South Asian country of around 220 million.

A spokesperson for the military declined to comment on Jan’s case.

Several Pakistani journalists were briefly detained in recent months, allegedly by the military's spy agency, in what is thought to be an attempt to silence criticism of the powerful military.

The military has denied the accusations.

With reporting by dpa and AP
Russian historian Yury Dmitriyev (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concerns over the fate of Yury Dmitriyev, a Russian historian and human rights activist whose trial on charges of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter -- an allegation he and his supporters deny -- nears its end.

In a July 21 statement, HRW said that the "circumstances surrounding criminal charges" against Dmitriyev "strongly suggest that they are spurious and target him for his human rights work."

On July 7, prosecutors asked a court in Russia's northwestern Karelia region to sentence Dmitriyev to 15 years in prison. A verdict and sentence are expected to be pronounced on July 22.

"Allegations of child abuse should always be taken very seriously, while also protecting the due-process rights of the accused," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.

"We are concerned that perfectly appropriate measures to protect the child during the trial may have been misused by the authorities to pursue a prosecution of a human rights defender to smear his reputation."

Dmitriyev was arrested in 2016 on child-pornography charges based on photographs of his adopted daughter that authorities found on his computer.

He has proclaimed his innocence, contending that the images were not pornographic and were made at the request of social workers concerned about the child's development.

Supporters of the 64-year-old, who is also the head of the Karelia branch of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, have said the charges were brought against him because of his research into a side of history that complicates the Kremlin's glorification of the Soviet past.

Dmitriyev's decades-long efforts to expose the extent of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's crimes have been viewed with hostility by the government of President Vladimir Putin.

In May, dozens of Russian scholars, historians, writers, poets, opposition politicians, artists, and actors signed an open letter asking the Karelia Supreme Court to release Dmitriyev, expressing concerns over the researcher's health as coronavirus infections have been found in the detention center where he is being held.

The European Union has called on the Russian authorities to release Dmitriyev and reconsider the charges against him.

A local court acquitted Dmitriyev in April 2018, but the Karelia Supreme Court subsequently upheld an appeal by prosecutors and ordered a new trial.

The historian was rearrested in June 2018 and is currently on trial on the more severe charge of "violent acts of a sexual nature committed against a person under 14 years of age."

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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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