A British-Pakistani activist known for her criticism of Pakistan's military was briefly abducted late Tuesday by unknown men in the eastern city of Lahore, her family said, prompting fears she had been forcibly disappeared.
Gul Bukhari, 52, was detained for several hours by unknown men one day after the powerful military held a press conference warning that it is monitoring citizens who criticise Pakistan, amid a growing crackdown on free speech in the country.
Bukhari was on her way to a TV news station in Lahore where she was due to appear as an analyst on a late night show when she was stopped, her husband Ali Nadir told AFP.
"She left around 1040 for Waqt News but was apparently picked up on the way. It seems to be plain clothes people but we don't have any more info," he said in a WhatsApp message.
He later confirmed that she had been freed, but could not immediately provide further details.
Sources at the channel said the kidnapping had taken place inside an army-controlled part of the city.
There was no immediate comment from the Pakistani authorities or the British High Commission in Islamabad.
But the news caused a furore on social media.
Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said it was "extremely disturbing" and the "worst kind of oppression".
"I hope better sense prevails and she returns unharmed. This is simply not acceptable," she tweeted.
"Dissenters are not a threat. Healthy societies allow critical voices to foster/retain a pluralist culture," tweeted newspaper editor and analyst Raza Ahmad Rumi, calling for Bukhari's release.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was "alarmed" by the report, and called on police to ensure her return.
"Pakistani journalists have seen enough tragedy," the watchdog tweeted.
Pakistan has had a history of enforced disappearances over the past decade, mainly confined to conflict zones near the Afghanistan border or to restive southwestern Balochistan province.
However in recent years a growing number of such abductions have taken place brazenly in major urban centres such as Karachi, Lahore and even the capital Islamabad.
They have also increasingly targeted activists and journalists critical of the state and the military's policies, largely seen as a red line few dare cross.
The military routinely denies being involved.
Some of those who have been released in the past have described being tortured, though many remain reluctant to name their abductors.
Others, like activist Raza Khan who disappeared in December 2017, remain missing.
However, a burgeoning civil rights movement by the country's ethnic Pashtuns and recent comments from ousted prime minister Sharif have increasingly targeted the security establishment and its policies, including disappearances.
On Monday the military held a wide-ranging press conference in which it pushed back against the recent criticism.
"We have the capability to monitor social media as to who is doing what," military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said during the press conference.
He also briefly flashed an image on screen showing what appeared to be Twitter handles and names, including of at least one prominent journalist, but refused to elaborate further.