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Ali Zaidi apologises for missing persons faux pas

Minister had equated Maryam holding Nawaz’s picture with family of missing persons

Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi apologized on Sunday after receiving backlash from political parties as well as members of civil society over his remarks directed at PML-N leadership that ended up indirectly mocking the sufferings of the families of missing persons.

Ahead of PTI’s Islamabad rally, the minister posted on Twitter a picture of PML-N leaders Hamza Shahbaz and Maryam Nawaz – the latter of whom was holding a photo frame of her father Nawaz Sharif. The caption accompanying the picture posted by Zaidi read: “Family of missing persons on the streets again.”

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Zaidi’s tweet immediately received criticism as people, including some from his own party, called him out for hurting the sentiments of the families whose loved ones have become victims of forced disappearances. Lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir said that the grief of the families of missing persons was “no joke”. “It is an insult to mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who for years dared to ask questions from the state by carrying the pictures of their missing loved ones,” he said, adding that those who make fun of the oppressed will one day become jokes themselves.

Reema Omer, another lawyer, quoted the Islamabad High Court in response to Zaidi’s remarks. “A person going missing is a crime against humanity. The prime minister and members of the cabinet are there to serve the people of the country. The State’s response towards recovering missing persons is pathetic.” Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai’s father Ziauddin said that only people of “missing conscience will make jokes of the families of the missing persons”.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, who is from Zaidi’s own party, tweeted that the issue of missing persons was “not an issue for humour at all”. She said that missing persons was a serious and heart-wrenching issue in Pakistan. PM Imran Khan has always opposed enforced disappearances, she said, adding that this was one of the reasons she stands with Imran Khan. “Our government’s bill to criminalise enforced disappearances is in the last stage of approval – from Senate.”

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Following the barrage of criticism, Zaidi tweeted an apology. “[I] apologize if this post hurt anyone suffering on forced disappearances,” he tweeted. “No illegal detention happened under [the] PTI regime. In fact, I personally helped recover 100+ who went missing under previous governments.”

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