Pakistan: New York Times reporter and photographer harassed and detained

New York, December 22, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for a full investigation into the detention of New York Times photographer Akhtar Soomro and the beating of reporter Carlotta Gall in Pakistan on December 19.

Gall, who covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for the Times, told CPJ that men who said they were from the special branch of Pakistan’s police, detained Soomro, a Pakistani national, in his hotel around 8pm, and seized his computer and camera.

Four men later broke into her room in a separate hotel, hit her and took away some of her belongings. Gall said she had bruises on her arms, temple, and cheekbone, swelling on her left eye and a sprained knee.

“They were extremely aggressive and abusive. The leader, who spoke English, refused to show any ID,” Gall said. The men accused of her of being in Quetta, the restive capital of Baluchistan province near the Afghan border, without permission. They said she had been interviewing Taliban members in Pashtunabad, a section of Quetta. Pakistan prides itself on not restricting journalists’ travel to areas other than the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the North West Frontier Province.

When Gall tried to stop them from taking the photographer Soomro, she was told, “He is Pakistani, we can do whatever we want with him.” He was released the next day, unharmed.

“We condemn the beating of our colleague Carlotta Gall and the detention of Akhtar Soomro. The Pakistani authorities must investigate this incident immediately and ensure that journalists are allowed to work freely,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We are alarmed by the use of government security services to harass journalists who are reporting in Pakistan on issues of global significance.”