CPJ concerned about missing Pakistani journalist

New York, January 26, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about journalist Suhail Qalander, who has been missing along with a friend since January 2. His colleagues believe he was kidnapped, possibly in relation to his work as a Peshawar editor of the Daily Express, Pakistan’s second largest Urdu language newspaper.

“We join our Pakistani colleagues in expressing growing concern about the disappearance of Suhail Qalander and friend Niaz Mohammad, who have been missing now for more than three weeks,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We urge authorities to intensify their efforts to locate these men.”

Qalander and Mohammad, a local businessman, were last seen near Mohammad’s home in Peshawar, colleagues told CPJ. No known threats had been made against Qalander, and his family initially believed that criminals had kidnapped the two men for ransom. However, after weeks have passed without word from kidnappers, colleagues suspect that they may have been targeted for political reasons.

“We cannot dismiss the idea that [Qalanader] is in government custody,” Express managing editor Abid Abdullah told CPJ. “We just don’t know. He had no personal issues, no problems with family affairs. His only identity was as a journalist.”

In 2006, CPJ documented three cases of journalists detained by Pakistani authorities and held incommunicado and without charge for prolonged periods. At least one other journalist was seized, beaten, and interrogated about his work by men who did not identify themselves.

Abdullah said Express management met with local authorities and urged them to step up the investigation into Qalander’s disappearance. Police have detained as many as 30 suspects in relation to the missing-persons case but no one has been charged, according to Shah Zuman, director of information for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He said he did not believe Qalander, 28, was targeted for reasons related to his journalism. “He is known for his neutrality,” Zuman said.