New York, February 21, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is relieved to learn that Daily Express Peshawar Editor Suhail Qalander, who had been missing along with a friend since January 2, has been returned to safety. The Daily Express is Pakistan’s second largest Urdu-language newspaper.
Qalander and Niaz Mohammad, a local businessman, had last been seen near Mohammad’s home in Peshawar.
Express Managing Editor Abid Abdullah told CPJ that Qalander had been held by “criminal and tribal elements” somewhere in the Khyber Agency of Pakistan’s lawless North West Frontier Province. “Both men are fine. They are in good health,” Abdullah told CPJ.
At a press conference in Peshawar, Qalander, tired and thin, did not identify his captors. He said he was tied up most of the time, and that he was tortured.
“We were kept in handcuffs and chains. They would give us injections that made us unconscious, and made it difficult to separate night from day,” the BBC quoted him as saying in Peshawar.
Qalander said the pair managed to escape after a gun battle took place where they were being held on Tuesday night.
Express management had pressured local authorities to investigate their disappearance. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the Tribal Union of Journalists and the Khyber Union of Journalists had held demonstrations and demanded the government recover Qalander.
“We join our Pakistani colleagues in expressing relief about the return of Suhail Qalander and his friend Niaz Mohammad,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the government to investigate and explain who held these two men for 50 days.”
In 2006, CPJ documented three cases of journalists detained and held incommunicado here and without charge for prolonged periods, apparently at the hands of the government. At least one other journalist was seized, beaten, and interrogated about his work by men who did not identify themselves.